Paris, April 24 (IANS) Marine Le Pen, who stood third in the first round of the presidential polls in France, is spoilt for choice as she gets to decide who will live in the Palais de l'elysee, the French president's official residence.
Incumbent President Nicholas Sarkozy faces an uphill task after being pipped by his main rival Francois Hollande of the Socialist Party, the first time a sitting president has lost in the first round since the start of the Fifth Republic in 1958.
After the first round of voting, the French political debate took a sharp turn towards the right, or far right.
And for a good reason.
The only real surprise of the first round held Sunday was the share of votes captured by the extreme right-wing party, Le Front National.
In various opinion polls, held in the run up to the vote, the party, which has been led by Marine Le Pen, daughter of the founder of the party, for the past five years, was often hovering below the key 15 percent mark and at times even falling behind the extreme left candidate Jean Luc Melonchon.
However, in the final count, Marine Le Pen led her party to record heights, falling barely short of 18 percent mark, while Melonchon was way behind with 11.11 percent of the votes polled.
In what could be indeed a shocker for the Socialist Party and the other multiple left front candidates, Le Pen got substantial support from the working class in France. In several bastions of the working class throughout the country, she was ahead of all the other candidates.
The performance of Le Pen is key for the second round as the two finalists, President Sarkozy and his challenger Hollande, have already begun the battle for the second round and not surprisingly, the 18 percent voters of Le Pen hold the key to the eventual victor.
These voters would normally fall into the lap of Sarkozy's party, UMP, but Marine Le Pen has so far not called for her supporters to vote for either Sarkozy or Hollande, saying that she would announce her next step in a rally in Paris May 1, five days before the second round.
This is a very clever stratagem as both the candidates are keen on taking the maximum number of votes from Le Pen and other candidates and often it helps when they receive formal support.
Marine Le Pen is now clearly eyeing the parliamentary elections slated to be held in early June and anything that she says or does in the run upto the second round would be with the sole objective of bagging the maximum number of parliamentary seats.
While she declares her policy, the two candidates are not wasting any time in trying to woo her voters.
Less than 24 hours after the election results, Sarkozy spoke on behalf of the voters who supported Le Pen, talking protectionism, shutting out immigrants, keeping the European Commission under a check and also battling for revival of a "strong France", which incidentally is also his slogan for the current election.
But as the most unpopular president of France since the Second World War and the only president not to have scored more than his principal rival in the first round, Sarkozy knows he has a lot of ground to cover in the next two weeks, perhaps a tad too much.
As France heads for the second round of what has clearly been one of the most virulent campaigns, the outcome will have significant implications not just for the third largest European economy but indeed for the entire Eurozone economy.
The first signs of this impact were visible Monday when bourses all over Europe and even the US took a beating, worried that their worst nightmare, a Hollande victory followed by Socialist Party gaining control of the parliament, could actually happen.
Most people still believe that Hollande is so far ahead of Sarkozy that he would win and with a gap of eight percent separating the two, according to opinion polls held Sunday, the outcome of the second round could be considered as a given.
(Ranvir Nayar can be contacted at email@example.com)
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