Rise of the National Front as Sarkozy faces drubbing in French regional elections
By Mail Foreign Service and Peter Allen
Last updated at 4:10 PM on 15th March 2010
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National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen casts his vote
On the rise: National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen saw his party win almost 12 per cent of the vote in French regional elections
France's National Front has re-emerged as a political force after President Nicolas Sarkozy and his ruling UMP suffered a heavy defeat in regional elections.
The far-right party, headed by controversial 81-year-old Jean Marie Le Pen, emerged with almost 12 per cent of the national vote just three years after he was written off during during elections in 2007.
At the ballot box the UMP polled just 26 per cent of the vote, worse than expected, and the socialists managed nearly 30 per cent.
The anti-immigration party's re-emergence comes after a long debate in France about 'national identity', which was begun by Mr Sarkozy's government.
It had been preceded by almost non-stop publicity for the national identity debate, which was meant to re-instil pride in traditional Gallic values.
Instead official internet forums and public meetings turned into a sound board for people complaining about France's growing Muslim community, which is now the largest in western Europe at six million.
Mr Sarkozy was accused of trying to use the debate to win over NF voters to his own party by calling for the Islamic veil to be banned because it alienated non-Muslims.
As a result, Mr Le Pen's party is now in the running in 12 of France's 22 mainland regions.
The disastrous results will come as a major blow for Mr Sarkozy in the last nationwide poll before presidential elections in 2012.
Sarkozy and first lady Carla Bruni
Unpopular: President Nicolas Sarkozy and first lady Carla Bruni cast their votes. Mr Sarkozy's UMP party polled only 26 per cent of the vote
Mr Sarkozy's popularity is plummeting, with his handling of the economy facing criticism, unemployment at 10 per cent, his reforms of everything from the legal system to universities under attack and high-profile speculation about his private life and that of wife Carla Bruni.
Socialists leader Martine Aubry said: 'By this vote the French people have sent a clear and strong message of dissatisfaction to a France that is divided, anguished and weakened.'
Mrs Aubry also said Mr Sarkozy was guilty of ‘reopening a door for the National Front’ by organising a ‘debate on national identity aimed at opposing French from here ( France ) with French from elsewhere, or foreigners'.
And Francois Bayrou, former presidential candidate and head of the centrist MoDem party, said: ‘It's a worrying moment. The National Front is back at a level not seen in years.’
Despite the FN optimism, the voting figure for the first round of regional elections was just 52 per cent - a record low. The second round will be held on Sunday.
The Socialists already run 20 of the 22 regions on the French mainland after the last elections in 2004.
The green-minded party Europe Ecologie, riding voter concern about global warming, is expected to align with the Socialists in many regions for the runoff, as will several other leftist parties.
The National Front effectively tied for third-place nationally with Europe Ecologie, both with about 12 per cent of the vote.
'Europe Ecologie is the third political force,' in France, said Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a leader of the party.
Results showed a close race in Alsace, one of the last bastions of the right. The Socialists looked set to keep hold of the Ile-de-France region that includes Paris.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1258053/France-elections-Nicolas-Sarkozys-UMP-party-face-defeat-regionals.html#ixzz0iGla5qfi