Sarkozy left trailing Le Pen in shock poll
MARINE Le Pen, the French National Front's (FN) new leader, could beat Nicolas Sarkozy in the first round of the presidential election next year, a shock poll suggested yesterday.
Ms Le Pen, who took over leadership of the far-right party from her father in January, would win 23pc of the vote if the election was held today, the survey found, beating both Mr Sarkozy, who had 21pc, and Socialist leader Martine Aubry, also on 21pc.
The results ignited a fierce debate over whether Mr Sarkozy was to blame for the far-right surge by focusing on pet FN issues, from immigration to Islam. Benoit Hamon, the Socialist party spokesman said: "Mr Sarkozy has fuelled the fire."
France will hold its presidential elections in May next year and only the top two candidates can reach the second round. Should the poll prove accurate, Ms Le Pen could go one better than her father, Jean-Marie, who knocked Lionel Jospin, the Socialist candidate, out of the 2002 race. He came second in the first round to Jacques Chirac, who went on to win.
The president's UMP party allies dismissed the survey as speculation. "Everyone knows that to vote for the National Front is a sure way not to vote for someone who will bring solutions," said Jean-Francois Cope, the party head.
But there was concern from other UMP members that support for the already deeply unpopular president could collapse should he run for re-election. The resignation of his scandal-hit foreign minister has further damaged his chances. "The risk of being absent from the second round is real," warned Dominique Paille, a former UMP spokesman.
Ms Le Pen's popularity began to rise after she distanced herself from her father's revisionist, anti-Semitic stance to focus on the role of Islam in France.
Mr Sarkozy followed suit, passing a law banning the full-face Islamic veil from public places and last month declared "multiculturalism is dead". His party is calling for a national debate on Islam and secularism.
Ms Le Pen said: "In my view, there will be a surprise. In any case, I'm going out to win -- not to play a bit part." (© Daily Telegraph, London)