On May Day in France, Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, announced that she will not be endorsing either of the two remaining presidential candidates, Francois Hollande or Nicolas Sarkozy. She will instead be leaving her ballot blank.
The media has reported this as a blow to Sarkozy, who, as the Conservative candidate from the Union for a Popular Movement, was hoping to rally her far right supporters behind him, going in to the final May 6 vote. Sarkozy is behind Hollande by 6 to 8 percentage points by some polls, and he needs to sway voters to his side in order to close that gap. However, in-spite of the fact that he did not receive Le Pen's approval, he may not need it, and may never have really counted on it.
Le Pen has been the topic of much discussion in the current French presidential election, after she came in third place in the first round held on April 22. She won 17.9 percent of the vote, constituting about 6.4 million people. Since she came in third, though, she was dropped off the ballot for the second round. However, since she and the far right garnered such widespread support, she is seen as an influential player who could impact the final results.
In spite of her public denigration of both Hollande and Sarkozy, even stating at one point that she blamed both of them for France's current problems, she does not necessarily speak for the millions of people who voter for her.
The membership of the FN has been estimated at about 50,000. Clearly, not everyone who voted for Le Pen was a member of her party. They most likely cast their vote for her because they agreed with some or all of her hardline stances on reducing immigration, protecting French culture, taking a strong stance against perceived Islamization, reinstituting strong border controls against the rest of Europe, and no longer having the Euro as the currency.
Millions of these people may actually be more moderate than hardline FN members, and more flexible in whom they vote for. They may not care whether it is her or another president, so long as the person reflects their views on the issues. Sarkozy seems to be banking on this. It is not a coincidence that on April 26, his government announced that it would seek to restore border controls across the visa-free Schengen area. On May 1 as well, Sarkozy made a public address criticising the
role of immigrants and unions on the economy, major concerns of the far right.
Sarkozy may already know that he does not need Le Pen to win over her supporters. On April 25, he made it very clear that he will not be making a special deal with the FN, and will not appoint any of their leaders in his government. He was widely believed to have done this in order not to isolate his more moderate base. He is still clearly courting their vote though.
Some polls have 44 percent of those who voted for Le Pen backing Sarkozy now. If that is the case, he may be able to close the gap with Hollande. On April 22, Sarkozy lost by only 1.45 points. A turn around is realistic.