French Conservatives Strike Deal with Right-wing Extremist Le Pen
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French Conservatives Strike Deal with Right-wing Extremist Le Pen

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A coalition of center-right parties has struck a deal with Jean-Marie Le Pen’s extreme right-wing National Front to help conservative candidates against the Socialists in the second round of France’s parliamentary elections this Sunday.

The agreement reached with Le Pen by the Marseille-Cote d’Azur branch of the Union for the Republic and Center is the first time a mainstream French political grouping has aligned itself with a party that campaigns on a racist platform and is considered by many to be anti-Semitic.

Although the agreement applies only to one region in southern France, the alliance has brought a degree of respectability to the National Front, which has been confined to the political ghetto since its emergence about a dozen years ago.

Many prominent center-right figures were opposed to the arrangement, including Simone Veil, former president of the Parliament of Europe and a prominent French Jew. The country’s two top center-right leaders, former Premiers Jacques Chirac and Raymond Barre, stressed that the deal was a “local initiative” over which they had no control, but declined to comment further.

The URC is a coalition of the Rally for the Republic, headed by Chirac, and the Union for French Democracy, headed by Barre. Both were defeated by Socialist Francois Mitterrand in the presidential elections in April.

Under the deal, the URC and the National Front will each withdraw their candidates in districts where another rightist faces a run-off against a Socialist candidate Sunday. The National Front will pull out eight of its candidates and the URC three.

Although the center-right won over 40 percent of the popular vote in the first round of the parliamentary elections Sunday, compared to 37.5 percent by the Socialists, Mitterrand’s party is expected to gain control of Parliament in the second round of voting this Sunday.

Pollsters predict the Socialists will emerge with more than 300 of the 577 seats in the National Assembly, a healthy majority.

The National Front, which polled 9.65 percent of the vote on Sunday, compared to 14 percent for Le Pen in the presidential race two months ago, is not likely to win more than three seats under the new electoral system. It presently has 35 seats, gained in the last elections under the system of proportional representation.

But even if practically eliminated from the National Assembly, Le Pen’s party will remain the fourth largest political force in the country, after the Socialists, the center-right grouping and the Communists.

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