- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 7, 2002

France is breathing a sigh of relief that the country's national embarrassment Jean-Marie Le Pen lost his bid for president in a landslide victory to incumbent Jacques Chirac Sunday. The conservative president, who won 82 percent of the vote, should be congratulated for claiming by far the largest majority ever won in a French presidential race since 1965, and for being the conduit through which France was able to transcend, at least for the moment, the threat of a nationalist, anti-immigrant leader. But Mr. Le Pen is not the only nationalist awakening France, and Europe, to its darker side.

Mr. Le Pen's strong showing last month is a harbinger that those who have an undemocratic way of looking at race, crime and immigration will not go away. In other countries Joerg Haider's popularity in Austria; the xenophobic policies of Friedrich Merz, the CDU/CSU leader for the parliament in Germany; the Danish People's Party capture of 12 percent of the vote last fall in Denmark and the race riots in London last year there is also testimony to that fact.

"We look to the future with great confidence, and we will meet again in the legislative elections," Mr. Le Pen warned, predicting that Mr. Chirac would lose some of his following by the June legislative elections. The elections on June 9 and 16 will determine whether the national assembly will be controlled by the Socialists or the conservatives. If Mr. Chirac is not able to create a vision around which both the left and the right can unify, Sunday's vote against Mr. Le Pen will simply be a vote against the deportation of immigrants and withdrawal from the European Union, with no defined platform to be for. Mr. Chirac now has an unprecedented opportunity to unify both parties around a more reasonable platform that would address the concerns of a population that preferred Mr. Le Pen's far-right extremism to Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's socialism in the first round of voting April 21.

It cannot be forgotten that the same anti-immigrant Mr. Le Pen appeared on the scene in the early 1990s, when unemployment was also at 9 percent. Mr. Chirac has a historic opportunity to address the discontent with crime and racial tensions in his country before they push extremists to positions of leadership. In the next several weeks before the legislative elections, the world will be watching to see if he is up to the task. But Mr. Chirac has one major advantage: The French have made clear that extremists are not welcome. As long as Mr. Chirac continues to hear them, Mr. Le Pen will be forced to take his boasts elsewhere.


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