Huge Chirac Win All But Certain

Rescue workers put an injured child that was pulled out of a burning day-care center onto an ambulance in the city of Hermosillo, Mexico Friday June 5, 2009. Flames engulfed the day care center in this northern Mexico city, killing at least 29 children and injuring dozens.(AP Photo/El Imparcial) AP Photo/El Imparcial

Calling on citizens to protect France's democracy, newspapers across the political spectrum on Saturday urged readers to cast their votes for President Jacques Chirac in his improbable matchup against ultra-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Chirac, a conservative, is expected to easily defeat Le Pen in Sunday's presidential runoff, but it will take a while for France to recover from the shock of this year's presidential race.

Le Pen, leader of the National Front, has been widely accused of racism and anti-Semitism. His surprise qualification for the runoff, beating Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in the April 21 first round, stunned France.

Le Pen's success prompted a huge wave of popular protests across France. Anti-Le Pen marchers flooded the streets nearly every day after his first-round showing, culminating in a gigantic march by more than a million people on the May Day holiday.

Polls show that the 69-year-old Chirac should sweep the runoff with overwhelming support from voters of all political stripes who want to reject Le Pen and his extremist platform.

A poll published Friday in daily Le Figaro indicated that Chirac would win 75-82 percent of the vote and Le Pen would receive between 18 and 25 percent. The survey of 1,012 registered voters was conducted April 30-May 2 by the Ipsos polling agency.

Still, the fact that he got this far in the first place raises uncomfortable questions about France's very identity that won't disappear quite so easily, says CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer.

And, The New York Times points out, even 18 percent of the votes would be greater than Le Pen has ever received before.

The Times says even the expected huge victory for Chirac would be somewhat hollow, a reflection more of voter dissatisfactioin with Le Pen's extremist views than of satisfaction with Chirac.

The left-leaning Paris newspaper Liberation on Saturday published a front-page picture of a Chirac ballot entering a ballot box. Over it was an enormous one-word headline: "Oui!" The day after the first round, the paper had run a picture of Le Pen covered by a huge "Non."

The conservative daily Le Figaro featured the headline: "Chirac, of course."

In an editorial, the daily La Montagne of the central French city of Clermont-Ferrand said Sunday's election was "first a question of assuring the preservation of our liberties, of the Republic and of serene democracy. On Sunday, only a ballot with the name of Jacques Chirac can guarantee it."

The protests were expected to continue all the way up to the ballot box. Some leftists, so disgruntled about having to vote for Chirac, were planning to put on gloves to handle the ballot. The Constitutional Council warned that anyone casting ballots with gloves - or other improper behavior - could risk the annulment of their votes.

In a sign of possible problems on Sunday, some left-leaning poll workers who supervise the voting weren't expected to turn up on Sunday in protest of Le Pen.

"I'm missing 180 supervisors," said Francois Rysto, the chief of staff at the city hall in the southwestern town of Villeurbaine, on Friday.

Still a question is how many people will abstain - the first round had a record 28 percent abstention rate - or how those who previously abstained will vote on Sunday.

CBS News Correspondent Dan Rather did an exclusive interview with Le Pen, in which he asked some pointed questions, two of which follow, with Le Pen's answers:

RATHER: Mr. Le Pen: you've been called both a racist and a fascist... first of all — are you a racist?

LE PEN: Well those are the words that are used by my adversaries, it is not at all the reality... and if I was a racist how could I have Black people, Arabs, Jews, in my political party?

RATHER: Did you or did you not call the gas chambers of the holocaust a — and I quote — footnote of history?

LE PEN: That's an answer that I gave 15 years ago on the occasion of an improvised interview. I was not an expert of the question of the gas chambers, and it was not something that I meant to be pejorative and it was something that I explained on the occasion of a press conference the next day.

The French newspaper Liberation, in Saturday's editorial, urged voters to turn out massively for the vote "so that the percentage score of the leader of the National Front will be as low as possible."

Many parties on the left, especially the Socialists, are already looking forward to legislative elections next month, the so-called "third round" of the election.

The official end of campaigning Friday marked the start of a legally mandated period of silence in the campaign. In their last pitches to voters, Chirac urged France to reject the anti-foreigner views of his rival and Le Pen predicted there would be electoral fraud in Sunday's contest.

Chirac urged left-leaning voters to "stand in the way" of Le Pen - "an extremely dangerous" man.

Le Pen, 73, says that if elected he will deport all illegal immigrants and assure French citizens priority in jobs, housing and social benefits. He wants to pull France out of the European Union and restore the franc as its currency.

Le Pen predicted foul play in the voting. He held up a white ballot for Chirac and one for himself, which appeared slightly less white. He said the difference was an attempt to subliminally influence voters against him.

"We are going to witness an enormous enterprise of fraud," Le Pen said, in remarks that appeared aimed at preparing his supporters for defeat.
  • Tricia McDermott

Comments