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Demonstrators protest the election win by French far right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen at Paris's Place de la Bastille, April 21, 2002. Charles Platiau

French Election Earthquake

by Ana Simo

APRIL 22, 2002. France woke up in shock today. Last night's political earthquake, which catapulted extreme rightist Jean-Marie Le Pen to the presidential runoff, has become today's national crisis of conscience.

The image of France that most citizens cling to dearly — that of a just and rational republic grounded in the sacrosanct principles of liberté, egalité, fraternité — has been turned upside down by Le Pen's victory in the first round of the presidential elections, with 17 percent of the votes, and the humiliating collapse of the Socialist candidate, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.

Le Pen, a feisty, xenophobic populist running on an anti-crime, anti-immigrant, anti-"European globalization" platform, will face conservative President Jacques Chirac on May 5. It is the first time an extreme rightist has qualified for a presidential runoff.

Le Pen's stunning upset doesn't signal a brutal swing to the right by the French electorate, not yet, in any case. It signals their boredom and impatience with an increasingly centrist, bland and unimaginative political establishment, including both Chirac's center-right neo-gaullists and Jospin's center-left Socialists, but particularly the latter.

Neither is addressing a general anxiety about how a fast-changing France can remain France in an uncertain, dangerously unipolar, Americanized world.

For Argentina and France: The Specter of Globalization

For Complete Coverage Europe

Related links:

For Rushdie's France: Dangerous Illusions in the Washington Post.

For 'The veil: It protects us from ugly women' about Le Pen.

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