Sarkozy denies far-right Le Pen victory in French polls

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party rules out any alliances between his party and National Front while French Prime Minister Manuel Valls calls for anti-FN blockade in next week’s run-off.

PARIS, FRANCE (MARCH 22, 2015) (REUTERS) – Former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party and their allies are leading in the first round of French local elections, exit polls showed on Sunday (March 22), denying Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front (FN) first place.

If confirmed, the result would be an unaccustomed setback for Le Pen, who hoped her resurgent anti-immigrant, anti-euro party would emerge top in the first round, boosting her goal of being a serious contender in the 2017 presidential election.

The UMP and allies together secured around 30 percent of the national vote, exit polls showed, ahead of the anti-immigrant, anti-euro FN on 26 percent.

As expected, President Francois Hollande’s ruling Socialists came third with around 20 percent of the vote, underlining their unpopularity after failed promises to bring unemployment down from current levels around 10 percent.

Sarkozy immediately ruled out on Sunday (March 22) any alliances between his party and FN candidates in next Sunday’s second round, which will decide who controls France’s “departements”, one level in France’s complex multi-layered system of local government.

“I want to say to all those who voted National Front that we understand their frustrations. But this party which has the same economic program as the far-left, which welcomed the election of the new Greek far-leftist government, will not solve France’s problems. On the contrary, it will only make them worse. I confirm that there won’t be any local or national agreement with the leaders of this party,” UMP chairman Sarkozy said.

Le Pen, who advocates a return of the franc and has hailed the rise to power of hard-leftists in Greece, is one of several radical leaders making gains across Europe in the wake of the 2008-09 economic crisis.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who toured the country seeking to drum up support for his party, called on voters to back whatever candidate is best placed to beat the FN candidate in next Sunday’s run-offs.

“I am calling all the Republicans to block the far-right in the second round. All Republicans, and I say, all Republicans, are facing their responsibilities tonight. I am calling each of them to behave clearly and lead to the vote of the Republican candidate from the Left or from the Right when he faces alone the far right party,” Valls said.

The two-round nature of the elections means the FN may only win as little as one out of a total 102 ‘departements’ outright. But it still hopes to get dozens of its officials elected onto their councils, thus strengthening the party’s local networks.

If the UMP goes on to secure the majority of the local councils across France, that will be a much-needed boost to Sarkozy’s political come-back bid, which so far has failed to fully convince right-leaning voters.

He is due to re-launch the UMP with a new name in May and has signalled he will seek to win back voters from the FN with policies including a requirement for immigrants to demonstrate they have fully embraced the French language and culture.