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Europe

Is France in for Another Political Surprise?

Now that France's extreme right-wing leader Jean-Marie Le Pen is safely out of the president's seat, it's time for French voters tomorrow to choose who will be the power behind centre-right President Jacques Chirac.

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In France's recent political jungle, voters are faced with a tough choice

Last April the French were caught off guard when far-right populist leader Jean-Marie Le Pen burst onto the political stage during the first round of the presidential elections. The leader of the National Front party came out strong against immigration and the European Union. He based his campaign on a tough policy of law and order, including the reintroduction of the death penalty. After mass protests, French voters quickly gave the incumbent Jacques Chirac an 87.5 percent majority in the second round of voting.

Now in the run-up to the two-part parliamentary elections on June 9 and 16, the re-elected president is rallying voters to support his three party centre-right coalition called the Union for the Presidential Majority (UMP). He stresses the need for a true majority and warns that a left-wing parliament would lead to a difficult five-year relationship with a centre-right president.

What the polls say

Current opinion polls expect the UMP to win 40 percent in the first round and the left to take 37 percent. In the second round, the voters' polls predict the centre-right to take an even greater lead.

Where does Jean-Marie Le Pen's extreme-right National Front party stand now? It's close to the bottom, but is still expected to get 14.5 percent in the first round. That is enough to take the party to the second round where it is predicted to get 12 percent. But the polls could be as wrong as they were before last April's presidential elections when they failed to see Le Pen coming.

The left-wing Socialist party is preparing for defeat this time even though they had the majority in the parliament during the last elections. The results of Le Pen's popularity in the April election, ousted left-wing Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and left the Socialist party without a leader. Left leaning voters claim the parliament victory on June 16 should be theirs because they rallied and voted for Chirac in May, who is what they call "the lesser of two evils".

Wahlen in Frankreich

The French are faced with a choice between Chirac and Le Pen

The centre-right has a head start

Rising crime and unemployment are some of the reasons that Le Pen received so much support with his tough, anti-immigrant, anti-European Union conservative mandate. Chirac picked up on the public's sentiment, and with his current interim government proposed new expensive measures to crack down on crime. The government has also promised significant tax cuts and has already negotiated a deal with French doctors who have been on strike for months demanding a raise in consultation fees and home visits.

Chirac recently announced that he refuses to include any politicians in his coalition who co-operate with the National Front, but he has to wait to see how the public votes.

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