Far right anti-immigration candidate Jean Marie Le Pen stunned the French political establishment Sunday by making it into the May 5 runoff election for president, pushing aside Prime Minister Lionel Jospin who was expected to run against President Jacques Chirac. Mr. Jospin announced he would resign from politics.
The only expected outcome Sunday was President Jacques Chirac's placement first in the polls, with just under 20 percent support. But the runner-up was not his Socialist rival, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, as expected, but 73-year-old far-right candidate Jean Marie Le Pen.
Mr. Le Pen, head of the National Front, captured 17 percent of the vote -- the highest score of his long running political career. Mr. Jospin came in third, with about 16.3 percent.
In a victory speech Sunday night, Mr. Le Pen told cheering supporters that French should rally behind his cause. Mr. Le Pen vowed to represent all French, particularly the less advantaged.
Many analysts who appeared on French television and radio Sunday, said Mr. Le Pen's message against the economic downsides of European integration, and fears of immigration and growing violence in France, had struck home with many French voters. Altogether, the far-right captured 20 percent of support in this first round.
Shortly after, Mr. Jospin delivered his own sober resignation speech at his presidential headquarters in Paris. Mr. Jospin described the results as a "blow of thunder," and blamed demagogy aired by the right, and lack of political cohesion on the part of leftist parties for his defeat. He said he would resign from politics after the presidential elections.
The results have clearly stunned leftist candidates. The Socialist Party, along with several others from the left to the center-right, have vowed to rally behind Mr. Chirac in the second round in order to prevent a far-right victory.
Mr. Chirac, of the conservative Rally for the Republic Party, appealed to French Sunday to show a spirit of tolerance and openness. In a clear reference to public fears about the far right, Mr. Chirac said what was now at stake was the very idea of human rights, dignity and democracy in France.
Hundreds of French also flocked to the Bastille and Place de la Republique Sunday night to protest against Mr. Le Pen's victory and threat of political extremism.
The clear winner was Mr. Chirac. Earlier polls predicted a tight runoff between the French president and Mr. Jospin. Now, the three top polling agencies predict an easy victory by Mr. Chirac, who is expected to capture between 77 percent and 80 percent support in a runoff against Mr. Le Pen.