French far-right leader Marine Le Pen delivered a further blow to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s re-election hopes by refusing to endorse him and telling her 6m supporters to make their own choice at Sunday’s ballot.
Sarkozy, who faces off against socialist François Hollande on May 6, needs many of the 17.9% of voters who chose National Front leader Le Pen last week to switch to backing him in the runoff if he is to overcome first-round winner Hollande.
But Le Pen, who came third on Apr 22 with a score that eclipsed her father’s record at the head of the populist protest movement, told a rally in Paris that she personally would spoil her ballot paper in the second round by choosing to vote for neither of the two remaining contenders.
“I will not grant my trust, or a mandate, to these two candidates,” she told supporters at an annual commemoration of Joan of Arc, the national saint her group favours to the May Day celebrations held by international labour and leftist parties. “On Sunday, I will cast a blank ballot.”
Le Pen did not further twist the knife for the conservative incumbent by urging her 6.4m voters to do likewise. But in leaving them to make their own minds up she left it unclear how many will stay at home or even vote for Hollande, who is running a six- to 10-percentage point lead in opinion polls.
“I have made my choice,” she said. “Each of you will make yours.”
Analysts had calculated Sarkozy might need as many as 80% of Le Pen’s first-round voters to win. But polls indicate only about half of them intend to.
With a parliamentary election to come in June, National Front leaders believe they can break through and win seats in the legislature, especially if a heavy defeat for Sarkozy plunges his centre-right UMP party into deeper disarray.
Being punished for economic gloom, rife unemployment, and a widespread dislike of his presidential manner, Sarkozy is the most unpopular sitting president to run for re-election and the first in the 54 years of the current electoral system to lose a first-round vote to a challenger.
Hollande, a mild-mannered centre-leftist running on a tax-and-spend platform, would be the first left-wing president in 17 years to lead the eurozone’s second biggest economy.
In a fiery speech to thousands of supporters waving French flags, Le Pen slammed Sarkozy’s rhetoric on the need to strengthen borders and maintain a clear national identity as pure theatrics, labelling him and Hollande as lackeys of the ECB, IMF, and European Commission.
“Sarkozy and Hollande, they are exactly the same,” said an 18-year-old Le Pen supporter. “If there is a difference between the two it’s their height.”
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