Tuesday, May 07, 2002
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By Vaiju Naravane
In a speech to ecstatic crowds who, braving pouring rain and strong winds, gathered at the Place de la Republique, the President, Jacques Chirac promised "action" against insecurity and high crime. In a speech reminiscent of the country's post-War leader, Charles de Gaulle, Mr. Chirac said he had heard and understood the message of the people. He said he would straightaway appoint a new government to take "immediate action" to address French concerns.
Mr. Chirac today appointed Jean Pierre Raffarin, a rotund Senator and former Minister as his new Prime Minister. Mr. Raffarin is expected to announce a flurry of measures, especially intended to curb crime, in order to woo some of the less hard line elements of Mr. Le Pen's constituency. He is expected to announce the setting up of a Ministry for National Security, as distinct from the Ministry of the Interior.
The extreme right-wing leader, Mr. Le Pen who was trounced 82-18 by Mr. Chirac, warned that he would return to the charge in the legislative polls. "In the fact of the incredible vilification campaign launched against us in the media and elsewhere, we have not only maintained our score, we have won an additional 600,000 votes. The National Front has become the country's leading political party and I am its leader," Mr. Le Pen said. The National Front advocates expelling all illegal immigrants, sending them to transit camps on special trains as well as job reservations for French nationals. Although Mr. Le Pen was defeated, he won 600,000 more votes than in the second round.
"This is clear proof that those who voted for Le Pen in the first round were not protest voters. They did so because they believe in his ideology. This shows us that one of every fifth French man is xenophobic," said Francoise Gaspard, former Socialist MP. Left-wing leaders warned Mr. Chirac and the right against crowing over this victory. "This was a plebiscite against racism and xenophobia and for the values of the French Republic. Let Mr. Chirac not forget that he was elected largely because of a strong mobilisation of left wing voters," former Finance Minister, Dominique Strauss Kahn, said.
Only 19 per cent of voters stayed away from the polls, down from a record-high 28 per cent in the first round when Mr. Le Pen stunned France by qualifying for the runoff with a surprise second-place showing.
The extreme right leader's surprise success shocked the nation into action, prompting two weeks of massive anti-Le Pen protests that culminated on Wednesday, May Day, when more than a million people marched across France.
The far right leader's support was strong in the southeast, an area that has become home to a large immigrant population. He won more than 27 per cent of the votes in that region.
The worst scenario for Mr. Chirac, with a five-year mandate, would be a failure to obtain a majority of the right in the parliamentary vote, forcing him to share power with the left and crippling his ability to act.
Many blame his five years of tense power-sharing with Mr. Jospin for the unusual Presidential vote., which featured 16 candidates in the first round a clear sign of widespread discontent with the political status quo.
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