Le Pen eyes handful of seats in parliamentary vote

PARIS Wed May 2, 2012 2:56pm EDT

France's far right National Front political party leader Marine Le Pen (L) and French lawyer Gilbert Collard attend the National Front's annual May Day rally in Paris May 1, 2012. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

France's far right National Front political party leader Marine Le Pen (L) and French lawyer Gilbert Collard attend the National Front's annual May Day rally in Paris May 1, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Charles Platiau

PARIS (Reuters) - French far-right leader Marine Le Pen said on Wednesday she hoped disillusioned conservatives would join a new patriotic coalition she is creating in the hope of winning seats in parliament for the first time in a quarter of a century.

Le Pen, who surprised in April's first-round presidential vote when almost one in five voters chose her, has refused to endorse conservative incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in Sunday's presidential run-off.

Out of the presidential race, which Socialist Francois Hollande is leading, Le Pen has her sights on next month's legislative elections where she believes she could now win a handful of seats and possibly the 15 needed to form a parliamentary group, which would allow her more air time and more of a hearing in debates.

"It is obvious there are many on the ground who just don't understand the leaders of the UMP and are closer to our values and ideas," the National Front leader told reporters, referring to Sarkozy's party.

"A success would be a return to the National Assembly as we've been excluded for 25 years," Le Pen said. "Getting one, two, three, four or five seats would be a success, but we want a lot more and that will depend on the post-presidential election dynamic."

Buoyed by a tide of anger over economic gloom and high unemployment, Le Pen is grouping together nationalists, traditional conservative Gaullists, and supporters of smaller parties under the banner "Rassemblement Bleu Marine" ("Navy Blue Grouping").

The group, whose title plays on her first name and a color traditionally linked with the right, should be in place in the next few days and Le Pen hopes it will provide a gentler-sounding image for the party she is trying to pull into the mainstream.

Since taking over the National Front leadership from her father Jean-Marie Le Pen in early 2011, the charismatic 43-year-old has expelled extremists and cracked down on racist talk and anti-Semitism.

The Front has had no parliamentary deputies since 1986, when a brief experiment with proportional representation helped it secure 35 seats. Since a subsequent change in the voting system it has failed to win a majority in any district.

A THIRD BACK LE PEN IDEAS

Le Pen's influence has dominated the final stages of the election race, with Sarkozy forced to take a tough line on immigration and national identity.

A TNS Sofres survey on Wednesday found 37 percent of voters agreed with the National Front's policies, the highest level since 1984. Just over half said France had too many immigrants.

The legislative election takes place in two rounds on June 10 and June 17, with any candidate scoring 12.5 percent in round one eligible to go through to round two in their constituency.

Based on its score in the first presidential round, the National Front could reach a parliamentary runoff in up to 345 constituencies, more than half of the 577 total and potentially splitting the right-wing vote in a major threat to the UMP.

Yet both the UMP and the Socialists have indicated they will call on supporters to vote for the other side or cast a blank ballot rather than letting Le Pen's far-right win the seat. In cases where all three parties make the runoff, tactical alliances may be formed between the mainstream parties to block Le Pen.

Le Pen said this week that in response to the mainstream left and right vowing to block her in June she would cast a blank ballot on Sunday. She told her backers they were free to make their own choice.

For the June election, she believes around 15 seats are winnable, a level analysts see as over-optimistic.

Among them are the northern constituency of Henin-Beaumont where Le Pen herself will stand, having been edged out in 2007 by a Socialist candidate, and in the southeastern Vaucluse region, where her 22-year-old niece Marion hopes to run.

Le Pen is betting on the UMP collapsing into disarray if it loses power, allowing her to build a movement she says would be neither left- nor right-wing but nationalistic and patriotic.

"If this bloc is successful we will consider whether to keep its name in view of our ultimate goal which is to win 50 percent plus one vote in the next presidential election," she said.

(Editing by Catherine Bremer and Giles Elgood)

FILED UNDER: