French far-right sees boost from planned Islam debate

News Agencies – February 18, 2011

France’s National Front party leader Marine Le Pen said that a planned national debate on Islam and secularism would boost its support and improve its chances in the presidential election next year. Le Pen mocked the planned debate as a new opinion poll showed she could score a strong 20 percent in the first round of the presidential vote.
President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government wants the debate, due in April, to discuss whether France’s five-million-strong Muslim minority supports the official separation of church and state.
Le Pen said it could end up backfiring on Sarkozy and his ally Jean-Francois Cope.

Critics said Sarkozy’s government-sponsored debate on national identity in 2009-2010, which led to a ban on full face veils in public, turned into a public forum to air complaints about Muslims and make the minority feel stigmatised. The Ifop poll published on Friday showed Le Pen could win 20 percent in the first round, which would put her in third place behind Sarkozy but in striking distance of Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry, the main opposition candidate.