Jean-Marie Le Pen (picture) predicts that somewhere around 5 per cent of the 30 per cent of voters now supporting Sarkozy will return to the extreme-right on 22 April.
PARIS(EJP)---Presidential frontrunner candidate Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday brushed off remarks from his extreme-right rival Jean-Marie Le Pen who said Sarkozy’s immigrant roots should be a factor for voters who head to the polls in less than two weeks.
The leader of the extreme-right National Front at the weekend described Sarkozy as "a candidate who hails from immigration" and asserted: "I am a candidate from this land."
"There is a choice there which might be considered fundamental by a certain number of French people,” he added.
"Jean-Marie Le Pen said there was a difference between him and me. He’s right. We are different, very different, I would add," Sarkozy replied in a television interview.
Target of taunts
Born in France to a Hungarian father and French mother of Greek Jewish origin, Sarkozy has often talked about being the target of taunts because of his foreign-sounding name during his childhood in the chic Paris suburb of Neuilly.
Asked whether his zero-immigration policy would have prevented the Sarkozy family from emigrating to France, Le Pen replied: "France could have done without Nicolas Sarkozy who would have perhaps had a very nice career in Hungary."
Born in France to a Hungarian father and French mother of Greek Jewish origin, Nicolas Sarkozy has often talked about being the target of taunts because of his foreign-sounding name during his childhood in the chic Paris suburb of Neuilly.
"It’s true that there is a difference, a choice that could be considered fundamental by a certain number of Frenchmen," said Le Pen.
The 52-year-old Sarkozy, who is the candidate of the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) governing party, said he was unfazed by Le Pen’s "habit of making provocative statements".
"I am not shocked. I am a candidate for the presidency.I know it’s hard, it’s tough. If I weren’t able to withstand all that and remain calm, it would then be better for me to do something else," said Sarkozy.
Sarkozy, who recently stepped down as Interior Minister to focus on the presidential campaign, is leading in the polls for the first round of voting on April 22 but Le Pen is among the top four contenders who could theoretically win enough votes to stand in the second round scheduled for May 6.
A total of 12 candidates will be running for president.
But Le Pen predicts that somewhere around 5 per cent of the 30 per cent of voters now supporting Sarkozy will return to the extreme-right on 22 April.
According to some political observers, this is why he is making Sarkozy’s Hungarian - and implicitly his Jewish - blood an election issue.
During his campaign, Sarkozy has taken le Pen’s favourite issues: immigration, insecurity, excessive taxation and nationalism.
The 78-year-old extreme-right candidate is confident that he will be one of the two contenders who will move on to the runoff, repeating the electoral upset of the 2002 vote that shocked the nation.
In that election, Le Pen beat Socialist Lionel Jospin and went on to confront Jacques Chirac in the runoff after a plethora of leftwing candidates caused a splintering of the vote.
Last Friday, Le Pen took his campaign to a rundown Paris suburb, telling voters of immigrant origin that they are part of the nation.
“You are the branches of the tree that is France,” Le Pen said, standing on a concourse in Argenteuil, northwest of Paris.
Le Pen made the symbolic campaign stop in Argenteuil where Nicolas Sarkozy is unwelcome for calling young troublemakers “rabble” during a visit in 2005 as Interior Minister.
Sarkozy vowed to “hose down” criminal gangs in the suburbs during a separate visit to another suburb, La Courneuve, a few months earlier after a young boy was killed by a stray bullet.
Some say that a certain number of extreme-left voters - even Arab and African – could be tempted to vote Le Pen t"ut of frustration or determination to make the system explode".
An Ipsos/Dell poll published Tuesday showed Sarkozy was holding steady with 30.5 percent of votes in the first round, followed by Socialist Ségolène Royal with 23 percent.
Centrist Francois Bayrou was in third place with 19.5 percent of the votes and Le Pen scored fourth, garnering 13 percent.
In a runoff, Sarkozy would beat Royal with 54 percent of votes compared to 46 percent for the Socialist contender, according to the Ipsos/Dell survey.
But according to other polls, 4 out of 10 French voters are still undecided.