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25.04.2012, 19:20 TheGuardian.co.uk

Nicolas Sarkozy rules out pact with Front National to steal election victory

Nicolas Sarkozy rules out pact with Front National to steal election victory

The French president Nicolas Sarkozy has ruled out any deal with the Front National to give them government jobs or help them win seats in parliament, after he was criticised by political opponents for going too far to court extreme rightwing voters.

Sarkozy is fighting for his political survival against the frontrunner, Socialist Francois Hollande, in next week's presidential election run-off. To have a chance of being reelected, he must win over a large part of the record 6.4 million people who voted for the far right's Marine Le Pen in the first round. Le Pen came in third place, but her voters now hold the election in the balance.

The Front National, capitalising on the French media attention, on Wednesday announced that Marion Le Pen, 22, the granddaughter of former leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, would run as an MP in the southern town of Carpentras where the party got one of its highest presidential scores.

Sarkozy, who has courted the far right this week with speeches about curbing immigration, protecting France's borders, values of work, family and love for the homeland, has come under fire from the left and even within his own party for lurching too far towards the extreme right. Some newspapers accused him of cynicism and breaking down the political cordon sanitaire which traditionally separates the mainstream French right from the far right and for considering alliances with the Front National for the parliamentary elections in June.

Sarkozy snapped back that although he was keen to listen to far right voters' concerns, he did not envisage appointing Front National ministers in a future rightwing government.

"There will be no pact with the Front National," he told France Info radio, adding there were too many issues on which they disagreed to imagine giving the party cabinet posts. The Front National has called for France to quit the euro and a hold a referendum on the death penalty, both far from Sarkozy's manifesto.

"There will be no Front National ministers, but I refuse to demonise men and women who in voting for Marine Le Pen cast a crisis vote, a vote of anger, a vote of suffering and a vote of despair. I have to listen to their message and take them into account, and not think it's time to hold my nose," Sarkozy said.

Le Pen's party has no seats in parliament but her high showing in the first-round of the presidential election means the party is now hoping to make parliamentary gainsand reach the final run-offs in hundreds of constituencies in the June elections. Geographically, Le Pen has broadened Front National support beyond her father's heartlands in the south, and polled well in villages and rural constituencies across the country as well as on the outskirts of cities. She did well in the depressed former industrial areas of the north and east, but also saw increases in support in rural areas beyond Bordeaux and in Normandy. The prospect of Front National gains has left Sarkozy's ruling UMP party, a broad coalition of centre right and rightwing factions, scrapping over what tack to take to hang on to their seats. The party is already divided and facing an internal battle over its future if Sarkozy loses the election. A poll in the daily Les Echos showed that 64% of Sarkozy's voters favoured him doing a political deal to assist the far right. In the broader French population, the same proportion, 64%, oppose any deal between Sarkozy and Le Pen's party.

The latest poll for OpinionWay showed Hollande winning the final presidential vote on 6 May by 54% to 46%.

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