French Presidential Elections Le Pen Struggles to Launch Candidacy

The veteran leader of France's far-right National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen is accusing the political establishment of conspiring to block his candidacy in the 2007 presidential elections. But the truth is that he just can't get enough backers.

Right-winger Jean Marie Le Pen is having trouble with his run for the French presidency.

Right-winger Jean Marie Le Pen is having trouble with his run for the French presidency.

French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen is having some trouble launching his candidacy for the French presidency. Despite the backing of up to 15 percent of the electorate, it looks like he might fall at the first hurdle: that of being a candidate at all. He needs the signatures of at least 500 public officials in 30 regions before he can be included on the ballot and he is falling short.

The Front National leader, now 78 years old, is accusing the mainstream parties of putting pressure on the officials, usually mayors of France's villages, towns and cities, not to endorse him.

Back in 2002, Le Pen shook the French political landscape when he reached the second round of the presidential elections, beating out then Prime Minister Lionel Jospin of the Socialist Party to go head-to-head with the incumbent Jacques Chirac.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Le Pen claimed he was a victim of an "oligarch-like conspiracy between the parties in place and the state institutions to stop the candidate of national opposition from being present."

This "conspiracy" is in fact the result of electoral rules which stipulate that the names of those who endorse a candidate be made public. Le Pen said local officials were hesitating to back him because they were scared to be seen supporting the National Front. "I ask mayors to have the courage to carry out the duty assigned to them by the law," he told reporters at his party headquarters in Saint Cloud, near Paris.

Le Pen has called on Prime Minister Dominque de Villepin to change the rules so that his supporters could remain anonymous -- a request de Villepin has rejected. Addressing a conference of French mayors, the prime minister said, "I don't see the reason today, several months from the vote to modify the rules of the game."

The anti-immigration National Front could garner between 10 and 15 percent of the vote in the presidential elections, according to opinion polls. The extreme-right party tends to attract voters who are worried about unemployment or immigration, or simply disillusioned with the political elite.

The first round of the presidential elections is to be held on April 22, 2007, and those wishing to run must have collected the 500 signatures by March 16. The Socialist Party (PS) has already agreed to field Segolene Royal as its candidate, and Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy of the ruling conservative Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) is widely expected to run against her.

It remains to be seen if she will also face Jean-Marie Le Pen. The political bruiser is not going down without a fight. If he fails to get the necessary backing he said his party will not "just twiddle its thumbs accepting a perfectly unjust situation."


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