“No to Islamism” campaign boosts France’s National Front in poll
Far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, playing on fears over the spread of Islam, has regained the political initiative in France with a strong result in regional elections that poses a problem for President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Bouncing back from a string of recent reversals, Le Pen’s National Front won a surprise 11.74 percent of the national vote in Sunday’s first round ballot and will dilute support for Sarkozy’s conservative block in crucial run-offs on March 21. Aged 81, Le Pen himself enjoyed a remarkable personal triumph, winning 20.29 percent backing in the southern French Provence-Cote d’Azur region, which has absorbed hundreds of thousands of mainly North African immigrants in recent decades.
A government move in 2009 to organise a broad debate on national identity rekindled interest in the far right by reviving controversies over how to deal with immigrants and Islam in a country that has Europe’s largest Muslim population.
Le Pen, who has said the regional vote will be his last election campaign, proved astute at leveraging concerns over radical Islam, plastering billboards with a poster showing France covered by an Algerian flag, a veiled woman and minarets. “No to Islamism,” read the slogan.