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France’s National Front Scores Victory in Municipal Elections

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France’s Jewish community has reacted with dismay to the strong showing posted by the extreme right-wing National Front in this week’s first round of municipal election.

But Henri Hajdenberg, the recently elected president of CRIF, the umbrella body representing French Jewry, said the results were predictable, given France’s economic and political scene.

“This was something highly foreseeable in a country ridden by unemployment and by political and economic scandals,” he said. “You cannot open a daily paper without reading about yet another politician being indicted for financial wrongdoings.

“This paved the way for people like [Jean-Marie] Le Pen,” Hajdenberg added, referring to the leader of the National Front.

Hajdenberg said that fighting against the National Front is one of his top priorities. He said he has repeatedly asked political leaders “to exclude any alliance” with the extremist party.

Le Pen and his followers currently maintain an unabashed anti-immigrant platform, but in the past they have made no secret of their anti-Semitic leanings.

France holds elections every six years for city councillors in municipal districts across the country. The councillors have the responsibility for electing mayors; they also form part of the college that elects senators, who sit in France’s upper house of Parliament.

Sunday’s first round of municipal election will be followed by a runoff vote June 18 in those cities where no candidate won a clear majority.

The National Front registered strong showings in working-class suburbs of Paris and Marseilles, in the industrial northern and eastern sectors of the country and along the Riviera.

The National Front did best in areas with high unemployment and large numbers of immigrants.

Before Sunday, the National Front did have control of any of France’s 36,664 town halls. The party had about 1,110 city councillors — a number that may double, or possibility triple, after the runoff vote.

Sunday’s voting came only one month after conservative Jacques Chirac was elected to the French presidency. In the April 23 first round of presidential elections, Le Pen stunned observers by winning 15 percent of the vote.

After Chirac’s victory, members of the current center-right majority believed that voters would elect moderate right-wing mayors.

But that assumption proved largely wrong, with the center-right unable to win any major cities previously held by the left.

Le Pen made a triumphant televised statement Sunday in which he said the National Front was on its way toward becoming a permanent fixture in French politics.

“The National Front was recognized by all observers April 23 as a rapidly expanding movement,” he said. “Tonight just confirms that.”

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