Five days before French voters pick their new president, the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen announced she would cast a blank ballot in the second round poll of the election. Faced with a choice between conservative incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Party challenger François Hollande, the National Front (FN) leader said the two candidates were the same.
Le Pen came in third in the first round of the elections on April 22, getting 17.9% of votes. Recovering a part of her electorate in the May 6 runoff is important for the two remaining candidates, but especially for President Nicolas Sarkozy, who opinion polls say will likely fail to secure a second mandate this spring.
Speaking to a crowd of around four thousand followers outside Paris’ Opera Garnier on Tuesday, Le Pen said each person should vote with his or her own conscience, but that neither Sarkozy nor Hollande could count on her endorsement.
I shall grant neither my trust, nor a mandate to those two candidates. On Sunday I will vote blank, and in June navy blue,” Le Pen said in reference to upcoming parliamentary elections in which she hopes to lead a coalition of FN members and sympathizers on the far right.
On May 6, it is not a president who will be elected, but merely another employee of the European Central Bank, a subordinate of the financial system in Brussels,” Le Pen mockingly declared in an hour-long speech in which she bashed France’s two main political parties and extolled her score in the first round.
The FN organizes a May 1 march every year in honor of Saint Joan of Arc, the 15th century Catholic saint and martyr who fought against the English army.
Before gathering outside the Paris Opera, the FN’s founder and long-time figurehead, Jean-Marie Le Pen, led a festive march in central Paris and momentarily stopped to lay a wreath at the foot of the statue of the French medieval heroine.
Nevertheless, the current presidential election eclipsed the traditional protocol, and participants were eager to find out what the far right candidate would say about the second round vote. Le Pen’s “blank vote” declaration was greeted with enthusiasm by the crowd, with many loudly repeating that they would do the same thing next Sunday.
The National Front gathering was one of three competing May 1 rallies in the French capital on Tuesday. Union workers and left-wingers joined the traditional Labour Day march that would culminate in the iconic Bastille square, while Sarkozy supporters took part in a counter-Labour Day gathering near the Eiffel tower.