- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 11, 2002

France, which gave the world the left-right divide in politics, returned to it with a vengeance in Sunday's parliamentary elections, virtually shutting out the anti-immigration party of Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Despite winning more than 11 percent of the popular vote, Mr. Le Pen's National Front Party is projected to win at most two of the 577 seats in the National Assembly, a function of France's two-stage electoral process and recent moves by conservative President Jacques Chirac to co-opt Mr. Le Pen's issues.

Political analysts and pollsters said this Sunday's second round of voting should cement a strong legislative majority for Mr. Chirac, confirm the Socialists as the main opposition force and relegate the National Front to the sidelines.

Mr. Chirac's convincing victory also could be good news for President Bush. After a decade of dominance by leftist parties in European politics, center-right parties are now firmly in charge in France, Spain, Portugal, Denmark and Italy, while German conservative candidate Edmund Stoiber leads Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in advance of September's elections.

The French "voted the national conscience" in strongly backing the traditional mainstream parties, said Simon Serfaty, director of the European studies program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"France could not afford another five years of cohabitation [the French term for divided government], and the anger Le Pen tapped into in the presidential poll in April turned out to be his last hurrah," Mr. Serfaty said.

Nearly complete voting tallies yesterday gave Mr. Chirac and his allies 43.4 percent of the popular vote. With hundreds of runoff elections still to be decided Sunday, the center-right parties are projected to win between 380 and 446 seats in the new parliament.

The Socialists, the majority party in parliament since 1997, took 36.1 percent of the vote and were forecast to win between 127 and 192 seats.

Mr. Le Pen's National Front garnered 11.3 percent of the vote in the first round. But because deputies are elected from individual districts and not by proportional representation, polls indicate that Mr. Le Pen's party may win at most two seats.

The National Front's 11.3 percent result in Sunday's vote was down from almost 15 percent in the 1997 parliamentary elections. National Front candidates made it to the runoff votes this time in 37 districts, compared with 131 districts in 1997.

The far left did even worse, garnering just 2.8 percent of the vote and no seats.

Analysts credited Mr. Chirac with several canny moves to bolster his support since overwhelming Mr. Le Pen in the May 5 presidential runoff.

The president softened his image as a jaded Parisian insider marred by scandal by tapping 53-year-old Jean-Pierre Raffarin, a self-described Thatcherite conservative from the Poitou-Charentes region of western France, as his prime minister after Socialist Lionel Jospin resigned.

Mr. Chirac also named hard-liner Nicolas Sarkozy as his minister of the interior and security, beefing up his portfolio to address France's soaring crime rate. Security and crime were potent issues for Mr. Le Pen in April's presidential voting.

Mr. Le Pen's backers including his daughter, Marine blamed France's electoral system, the scare tactics of mainstream parties and the popular press for their poor showing.

"The voting system is unfair and anti-democratic," Miss Le Pen said in a radio interview yesterday. "National Front voters know in advance they won't gain representation."

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