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Monday, 10 June, 2002, 03:29 GMT 04:29 UK
Far-right slips in French elections
Jean-Marie Le Pen addresses his dejected supporters
Mr Le Pen had been hoping for as many as 15 seats
France's far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen has condemned the country's "anti-democratic" electoral system as first results from parliamentary polls indicate that support for his anti-immigrant movement has slipped.


I am sad for (the French) and for France

Jean-Marie Le Pen
Buoyed by the shock results of April's presidential elections, in which Mr Le Pen defeated the Socialist candidate to challenge President Jacques Chirac in a second round, the National Front (FN) had been hoping for as many as 15 seats in the country's parliament.

But results declared so far give the far-right party just 11.3% of the vote, a fall of five points from the presidential poll, and also down from the nearly 15% garnered in 1997 legislative polls.

If these preliminary results are confirmed, correspondents say that the FN can hope to win no more than four places in the 577-seat house after the run-off next Sunday.

However this would be more seats than it currently has - none - the result of an electoral system which does not allocate seats on the basis of the total, national number of votes.

The second round is a first-past-the-post system which does not take into account the national level of support.

Pushing crime

In an interview on French television after the initial results were announced, Mr Le Pen blamed a host of factors for his party's poor showing - including the female candidates who ran for the movement, other parties, and alleged electoral irregularities, as well as slating France's entire electoral system.

The FN was one of few parties to come close to complying with a new law that requires all parties to ensure that half their candidates in any poll are female, or face financial penalties.

French President Jacques Chirac
Mr Chirac has focused on law and order issues raised by Mr Le pen
President Jacques Chirac's right-wing coalition chose to ignore the law, while the Socialists, which formulated the legislation two years, also failed to meet its terms.

"The high proportion of women we put forward to respect the rule on equality made our score lower," he told LCI TV.

"There have also been a large number of various incident - in many places our ballot papers were not sent," he said, and accused the post office workers' trade union of withholding "10 million of our electoral letters".

He also had harsh words for the electoral system, which, he said "is obviously anti-democratic and was established by those who are in power, namely the Left and the Right, which work hand-in-hand to be re-elected".

But some observers have suggested that, even if the far-right does suffer a blow in these elections, to some extent it has managed to push its agenda onto the national stage.

In the wake of the presidential elections, in which Mr Le Pen's shock success in the first round was widely attributed to his use of French fears of crime, Mr Chirac and his right-wing caretaker government have made law and order a central plank of their electoral campaign.

Many voters who boosted Mr Le Pen's score at the presidential election may have switched to the centre-right, seduced by the new government's tough talking on the issue of crime, analysts say.

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