A leading figure in the far-right Front National (FN) has offered to endorse Nicholas Sarkozy for Sunday’s deciding second round of the presidential election, but only on condition that the president backs FN candidates in June’s parliamentary elections wherever they face a direct challenge from Socialist party (PS) candidates.
Bruno Gollnisch, the party boss in the Rhône-Alpes region of southern France, told the newspaperLe Progrès he would back Sarkozy if the president ‘let it be known he would prefer people to vote FN than PS at the parliamentary elections in the case of such duels’. Gollnisch, who has been prosecuted on charges of denying the holocaust, called on Sarkozy ‘to repudiate his lieutenants who have said that in the case of duels between FN-PS at the parliamentary candidates they would chose the socialo-communiste candidate.’
Although he said he was speaking ‘in a personal capacity’, Gollnisch’s remarks will be widely seen as putting out feelers for his boss, FN leader Marine Le Pen, who is expected to give her ‘advice’ for the second round at a major FN rally in central Paris tomorrow. In the absence of dramatic last minute overtures from Sarkozy, Le Pen is expected to urge her supporters to voter blanc – to register a protest vote by leaving their ballot papers blank.
Sarkozy needs to win over an overwhelming majority of the 18% of voters who backed Le Pen in the first round if he is to stand any chance of beating the Socialist challenger François Hollande on 6 May.
Tempting though it may seem, Sarkozy is unlikely to take up Gollinsch’s offer. An explicit endorsement of the FN not only risks alienating crucial centrist voters, but could also provoke a split in Sarkozy’s own party, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) – which is itself an unstable alliance of the centre-right and more nationalist elements. Some moderates who supported Sarkozy in the first round could also switch to Hollande if the president were to ‘cross the rubicon’ and back far-right candidates.
Sarkozy has stepped up his right-wing rhetroric in the week since the first round on 22 April, saying he ‘refuses to demonise’ people who voted for the FN and that the ideas of Martine Le Pen are ‘compatible with the Republic’. But he has made few specific policy concessions and ‘on the whole, our electorate are shocked by the contempt shown on his part,’ said Gollnisch.
On 25 April, Sarkozy seemed to shut the door on any formal co-operation with the far-right party, saying there would be no electoral pact with the FN and no FN ministers in the government if he is re-elected. However, some senior UMP figures, convinced the president is already doomed, are said to be talking privately about some sort of deal with the resurgent FN in a bid to avert a landslide victory for the left in the June parliamentary elections.