- Associated Press - Sunday, April 29, 2012

PARIS — Nicolas Sarkozy is parroting French far-right leader Marine Le Pen and embracing her anti-immigrant electorate in a desperate bid for a second term as president.

Yet Ms. Le Pen seems determined to see Mr. Sarkozy fail.

Ms. Le Pen, who rails against what she calls the “Islamization” of France, came in a strong third place in the first round of France’s presidential election this month and could play the kingmaker for the decisive second round Sunday.

Logic would suggest that Ms. Le Pen should endorse the conservative Mr. Sarkozy, a fellow critic of the left who has carried Ms. Le Pen’s ideas into mainstream discourse - and policy.

But Ms. Le Pen has shown no signs of backing Mr. Sarkozy.

Instead, she seems to be hoping that Socialist Francois Hollande wins the presidency, Mr. Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party crumbles in disarray, and Ms. Le Pen herself emerges as the face of the French opposition.

“She is doing the maximum to keep Mr. Sarkozy from winning,” said Nonna Mayer of the Center for European Studies at the Institute for Political Sciences in Paris. “She wants the UMP to explode. Her idea is to show her force and … represent the right.”

Ms. Le Pen’s immediate sights are set on parliamentary elections in June, where she hopes her National Front party will win seats for the first time since 1986 and build alliances with the harder right members of the UMP.

Announcement expected Tuesday

Ms. Le Pen’s ready smile and soft blond highlights present the perfect public face for a party that is trying to “de-demonize” itself after decades under party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s firebrand father, repeatedly convicted for racism and anti-Semitism.

Marine Le Pen has focused her ire on France’s millions of Muslims, stoking fear about halal meat and comparing Muslims who pray on the streets for lack of mosque space to Nazi occupiers.

She wants France to abandon the euro currency and return to the franc, and to drastically reduce the number of immigrants to 10,000 a year.

Mr. Sarkozy, too, wants to slash the number of immigrants, and he championed a law banning Islamic face veils from the street, saying they run counter to French values. He speaks regularly of the French identity, seen as code for the traditional white, Catholic heartland.

Ms. Le Pen said she will announce Tuesday whether she is endorsing anyone for the presidential runoff.

Polls suggest only about half of Ms. Le Pen’s voters would support Mr. Sarkozy in the second round, with the others either abstaining or voting for Mr. Hollande.

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