Monday, April 23, 2018

Far-right leader in France declines to endorse in runoff

PARIS — With just days before the runoff that will decide France's presidential race, the leader of the far-right National Front party declined Tuesday to endorse either remaining candidate, and instead urged her supporters to "vote according to your conscience."

Some 6.4 million voters, or 18 percent of the total, backed the nationalist leader, Marine Le Pen, in the first round April 22, the best showing in the party's history. Their votes may prove decisive in Sunday's runoff between the incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy, and his Socialist challenger, Francois Hollande.

At a rally Tuesday, Le Pen said she would not vote, but would instead leave her ballot blank to protest a political system she dismissed as too elitist and internationalist to represent the concerns of the working class. But she stopped short of urging the crowd to follow her lead and abstain Sunday.

Sarkozy, who finished a close second behind Hollande in the initial round, hopes to attract at least two-thirds of Le Pen's voters to avoid becoming the first leader of France in 30 years to be voted out after a single term. His campaign has veered further to the right to woo them.

Recent polls suggest Hollande's lead over Sarkozy has fallen to 6 to 8 percentage points, compared with a double-digit lead before the first round. Sarkozy hopes to close the gap in a televised debate today, and is expected to portray his challenger — who has never held high office — as untested in a time of economic crisis and as lax on immigration and national security.

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