Far-right Front National candidate Marine Le Pen is taking her battle over France's election rules to the country's highest court this week as she claimed still to be short of meeting requirements to stand in upcoming presidential elections.

"/> Far-right Front National candidate Marine Le Pen is taking her battle over France's election rules to the country's highest court this week as she claimed still to be short of meeting requirements to stand in upcoming presidential elections.

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NICOLAS SARKOZY

Le Pen still at risk of not being able to stand

Far-right Front National candidate Marine Le Pen is taking her battle over France's election rules to the country's highest court this week as she claimed still to be short of meeting requirements to stand in upcoming presidential elections.

Le Pen still at risk of not being able to stand
Marie-Lan Nguyen

Le Pen is arguing that anonymity should be granted for the 500 signatures that any candidate for the presidency must obtain. Under current rules the signatories’ names are published.

Under a 1976 French law, a candidate needs 500 signatures from elected officials in at least 30 different administrative departments across the country of in France’s overseas territories.

The Constitutional Court will consider the matter on Thursday and will give its judgement the following Wednesday. The judges have the power to change the rules so that signatories’ names can remain secret.

Le Pen herself said on Monday she had now received 400 signatures, although progress was slow.

“The signatures are arriving too slowly for our taste, but they are coming all the same,” she said, reported Le Parisien newspaper on Tuesday.

“A certain number of mayors are aware that this situation is unacceptable and they need to be courageous,” she added.

Her communications director agreed that they were “a little less pessimistic.”

Help came from an unexpected quarter on Sunday when the centrist candidate, François Bayrou, suggested signatures could be transferred to Le Pen.

Bayrou is currently in fourth place in the opinion polls, just behind Le Pen. He said in a television interview that if she were to fall below the 500-signature barrier, the other parties “should discuss it.”

Le Pen herself was in no mood to accept favours.

“I don’t need to thank him,” she said. “What’s dramatic is that he’s the only one to talk about this.”

On Monday, one of the smaller candidates dropped out of the presidential race.

Christine Boutin, who leads the Christian Democratic party, said she was abandoning her presidential bid and would support Nicolas Sarkozy.

In particular, she cited his opposition to same-sex marriage, which she strongly opposes, as a key factor in her decision.

“I have led this campaign for nine months because I hold beliefs and values that are essential to our society,” she wrote on her website. 

Referring to the main opposition candidate, Socialist François Hollande, who says he will introduce same-sex marriage if elected, she said he “represents a danger for our country.”

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NICOLAS SARKOZY

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

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