Far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen slammed a poll in a Sunday newspaper that asked people how they would vote if she was not on the ballot paper.

"/> Far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen slammed a poll in a Sunday newspaper that asked people how they would vote if she was not on the ballot paper.

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Le Pen attacks all sides over ‘pathetic’ poll

Far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen slammed a poll in a Sunday newspaper that asked people how they would vote if she was not on the ballot paper.

Le Pen attacks all sides over 'pathetic' poll

The prospect could be a reality if Le Pen fails to get 500 elected officials to sponsor her candidacy.

Under French law, any presidential candidate needs 500 signatures from elected representatives in at least 30 different departments across the country or in France’s overseas territories.

Le Pen told RTL radio on Thursday that she was still 150 short of the target number and risked being excluded from the vote on April 22nd.

A Sunday newspaper, Journal du Dimanche, published an opinion poll at the weekend showing that the fortunes of current president Nicolas Sarkozy improve markedly without Le Pen in the picture.

In that case, Sarkozy and his Socialist rival François Hollande would each get 33 percent of the vote.

Current polls give the president around 24 percent compared to Hollande’s 30 percent. Le Pen is just behind on around 20 percent, threatening to overtake the president and secure a place in the final two-way runoff on May 6th.

Le Pen told a meeting in Toulouse on Sunday that the scenario in the poll was “the dream of the political class.”

“If I’m not there will you vote for Nicolas Sarkozy, for François Hollande?” she said, as the audience booed and whistled. 

“There is your response to their pathetic opinion polls and pathetic manipulations,” she said.

Le Pen has been accused of lying about her lack of signatures by politicians on left and right.

“It’s a bluff,” said finance minister François Baroin on radio station Europe 1. “Her father used to do the same thing,” he said in a reference to the former leader of the Front National, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

In fact, Jean-Marie Le Pen failed to get enough signatures on one occasion in 1981, when François Mitterrand was the election victor.

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Leaders Sarkozy and Juppé stumble in race for Elysée

Right-wing candidates for the French presidential election face off in the first round of a US-style primary on Sunday with former president Nicolas Sarkozy and ex-prime minister Alain Juppe fighting to avoid being knocked out by an outsider.

Leaders Sarkozy and Juppé stumble in race for Elysée
Alain Juppé and Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo: AFP

In a contest overshadowed by the election of Donald Trump in the United States, support for the early favourite Juppe has slipped and Francois Fillon, who served as prime minister under Sarkozy, has risen fast.

The right-wing nominating contest is crucial because with the French left divided, the winner is expected to go on to take the presidency in May, beating far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the runoff.

Juppe, 71, entered the two-month-long contest with polls showing him to be France's most popular politician, but his approach of playing the moderate against the fiery Sarkozy and the conservative Fillon appears to be backfiring.

Most polls now show Juppe and Sarkozy are neck-and-neck at around 30 percent, with Fillon close behind after making striking progress in recent weeks.

The two winners on Sunday will go through to the second round run-off a week later.

Two becomes three

“We were expecting a duel but in the end a three-way contest has emerged,” political scientist Jerome Jaffre said in Le Figaro newspaper on Thursday.

Many have noted that 62-year-old Fillon's rise had coincided with the publication of his latest book entitled “Beating Islamic totalitarianism”.

An often confused final TV debate of the seven candidates on Thursday offered few clues about the possible outcome, although viewers polled afterwards said Fillon had performed the strongest.

Sparks flew when Sarkozy was asked about fresh claims that he received millions in funding from the late Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi towards his 2007 campaign.

Sarkozy called the question “disgraceful” and refused to answer.

Turning to the Trump effect, the former president said a more isolationist America created “a fantastic opportunity for France and Europe to re-establish a leadership role” on issues including border security and the reform of the UN Security Council.

“The next five years will mark the return of France and Europe to the international scene. America won't be there to put us in the shade,” he said.

Juppe meanwhile said the Trump-era heralded a triple “shock” — in the areas of trade, defence and the environment.

A return to protectionism would be “a tremendous regression”, Juppe said, while warning Europe against being “naive” in its dealings with the United States.

The three leading candidates have similar programmes, underpinned by pledges to reinforce domestic security in a country still under a state of emergency following a series of jihadist attacks.

They also share a desire to reinforce European borders and reduce immigration, while tax cuts also loom large.

The choice will come down to style.

Sarkozy has emphasised his tough-guy credentials, saying it makes him a better choice to handle Trump than the mild-mannered Juppe.

Fillon, who is popular in the business world, has promised “radical” economic measures but is the most conservative of the three on social issues.

Another unknown factor in Sunday's first round is the number of left-wing voters prepared to pay two euros and sign a declaration that they subscribe to “the values of the centre and the right” to vote in the right-wing primary.

Those who do are expected to vote against 61-year-old Sarkozy, who remains a highly divisive figure in France four years after he left office.

When the right-wing candidate is chosen on November 27, it is expected to trigger an announcement from deeply unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande on whether he intends to bid for re-election.

On Wednesday, Hollande's former economy minister Emmanuel Macron announced he would stand as an independent.

by AFP's Guy Jackson