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France's Support for Le Pen Grows

Less than a month before the first round of voting for France's next president, support for Jean-Marie Le Pen, head of the far-right National Front, is growing steadily. Mr. Le Pen can't get enough signatures from elected officials to be on the ballot.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, along with Troskyist Arlette Laguiller, are probably the most popular candidates this presidential election season after President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. Both Mr. Le Pen and Mrs. Laguiller scored about 10 percent in a poll published this week.

Political pundits believe the climbing ratings for both reflect the deep disenchantment of many French with the presidential campaign. In the case of 73-year-old Mr. Le Pen, the ratings also indicate that his enduring anti-immigrant, French-first message continues to resonate.

But not necessarily with elected officials. To get on the ballot, Mr. Le Pen needs signatures from 500 of these officials, and at last count, he was 38 signatures short. He needs to get them by next Tuesday.

During campaigns in the 1990's, Mr. Le Pen scored up to 15 percent support in popularity polls. Experts believe he may get as much as 12 percent support this year.

Mr. Le Pen has also softened his anti-immigrant rhetoric. Now, he says, he is not against immigrants, but only that France cannot afford to let more in, as he said in a recent interview on French television.

Mr. Le Pen said that immigrant-heavy suburbs are largely the cause of rising violence in France, and he calls for a return to traditional French values of religion, family, school and army.

While Mr. Le Pen denounces the policies of both conservative President Chirac and Socialist Prime Minister Jospin, he reserves his toughest criticism for Mr. Chirac. He accuses the French president of sabotaging his ballot drive. For his part, Mr. Chirac jokingly rebuts that Mr. Le Pen should seek support from liberals, a group not often associated with Mr. Le Pen, or his political views.