France’s far-right National Front said on Friday that a planned national debate on Islam and secularism would boost its support and improve its chances in the presidential election next year. Party leader Marine Le Pen, who took over last month from her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, mocked the planned debate as a new opinion poll showed she could score a strong 20 percent in the first round of the presidential vote.
President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government wants the debate, due in April, to discuss whether France’s five-million-strong Muslim minority supports the official separation of church and state.
Le Pen said it could end up backfiring on Sarkozy and his ally Jean-Francois Cope, the UMP party leader who announced on Wednesday that the debate would start in April.
“The last time (Sarkozy) used that, there was a debate about national identity and the National Front scored 15 percent in the regional elections,” she told France Info radio (with link to audio in French).