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Wednesday, 24 April, 2002, 14:21 GMT 15:21 UK
Le Pen gives French lessons
France
Many have expressed shame over Le Pen's success

French people are aware that their country's image abroad has been tarnished by Le Pen's success.

One can see the street protests as a "non" to Jean-Marie Le Pen but also as a "pardon" to the rest of Europe.

French citizens like to see their country as the "homeland of human rights".

Is not "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity" the motto of the French Republic born from the 1789 revolution?

Many feel today that the first round result has somehow betrayed this ideal.

"I feel ashamed of being French," many said when they saw the results on their television screens.

But after the shock, French people have started to fight back by taking to the streets.

They want to show that Le Pen does not represent France.

It is a point they aim to emphasise by ensuring Le Pen gets as low a score as possible on 5 May.


Many French voters feel ashamed and somehow guilty for not having taken Le Pen's threat seriously.

As a former political journalist for French radio in Paris, I covered the National Front's activities for four years and I have to confess that never, ever, did I think France would find itself in this situation.

French voters were too self-confident - wrongly reassured by the opinion polls - that the contest would be between Jacques Chirac and Lionel Jospin.

That is why so many left-wing voters did not bother to turn out, or decided to vote for small candidates. Lionel Jospin was the victim of this lack of "vote utile".

United front

Socialists, Communists and Greens have already called on their voters to back Chirac.

It is the "Front Republicain" against the "Front National" even though it is going to be heartbreaking for millions of left-wing voters to slip Chirac's name into the poll box.

Many of them feel they have got an unenviable choice.

Jacques Chirac focused his campaign almost exclusively on criminality, playing into the hands of the far right.
Lionel Jospin
Lionel Jospin immediately resigned following his stunning defeat

All the major opinion polls foresee a massive victory for Chirac - between 75% and 80%.

In a bizarre twist, the Gaullist candidate, who has registered the worst score for an outgoing president at the first round, is likely to be elected at the second round with the best result ever seen under the Fifth Republic.

Chirac's challenge

But the two coming weeks are going to be very tough for Jacques Chirac.

He has to face a man who hates him, who calls him a "serial liar and a robber", who wants his political death.

Jean-Marie Le Pen is a very skilful and robust debater.

Jean-Marie Le Pen
Both Jospin and Chirac underestimated Le Pen

But, somewhere, Chirac's foreseeable victory is not relevant any more.

The real test will be the scale of the French mobilisation to halt a candidate who is described as an enemy of democracy.

Voters and politicians have to learn the lessons of this political earthquake.

Considering the 17% who voted for Le Pen as mere "fascists" would be wrong and counter-productive.

French politicians know they have to tackle the real problems - crime, integration, poverty - which allow the National Front to blossom.

The former socialist Prime Minister Laurent Fabius used to say: "Le Pen raises real questions but gives the wrong answers to them."

It is up to "l'Etablissement" (one of Le Pen's favourite expressions) to find the right answers and avoid another national disgrace.


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22 Apr 02 | Europe
22 Apr 02 | Africa
22 Apr 02 | UK Politics
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