PARIS (Apr. 24)
Jean-Marie Le Pen’s extreme right-wing National Front scored an unexpected advance in the first round of France’s presidential elections Sunday and may hold the balance of power in the second round to be fought in two weeks.
The party, which preaches a racist philosophy and is anathema to most French Jews, won 14.5 percent of the vote. Most pollsters had given it a maximum of 11 percent. When Le Pen last ran for president in 1974, his party polled only 0.7 percent.
Of the two leading candidates, incumbent President Francois Mitterrand, leader of the Socialist Party, won 34.5 percent of the vote and Premier Jacques Chirac of the center-right won 19.5 percent. Both will need support from Le Pen’s voters in the second round. Chirac, in particular, will have to attract a large share of the far right if he is to defeat Mitterrand.
Le Pen claimed Sunday night that his gains were a “political earthquake,” saying, “Nothing can be done now without the consent of our millions of voters.” His chief campaign aide claimed the National Front drew 2 million more voters than it did in the 1986 parliamentary elections.
Although Le Pen insists he is not anti-Semitic, he has been denounced by Jews and non-Jews alike for remarking in a radio interview last year that the Holocaust was only “a minor point” in history. Most of his polemics have been directed against aliens, mainly the large Arab presence in France. Jewish organizations consider him a menace to democracy.