Le Pen says NF a major force after French vote By Irwin Arieff PARIS, April 25 (Reuter) - Extreme rightwinger Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front claimed on Tuesday its strong first-round presidential vote had proved it was a force that conservative Jacques Chirac must reckon with if he is to win the election. ``There is now in our country a fourth political family, just as important as the Socialists or the (Gaullist) Rally for the Republic or the (centrist) Union for French Democracy,'' said National Front deputy head Bruno Megret. The political establishment had been ``badly weakened'' by Le Pen's 15 percent showing in Sunday's ballot and must now recognise the National Front as ``a great political force that is representative, legitimate and deeply rooted'' or suffer additional damage, Megret told a news conference. Le Pen finished fourth in Sunday's ballot behind Socialist Lionel Jospin, Chirac and Gaullist Prime Minister Edouard Balladur. He topped the polls in Alsace and on the Riviera. His record showing prompted hints from Le Pen that Chirac would have to make a goodwill gesture to win the support of his voters in the May 7 run-off against Jospin. Le Pen will recommend next Monday who his supporters should back in the run-off, but Megret hinted that only Gaullist Chirac, a longtime foe of the National Front, was in the running for the endorsement. Jospin's programme would not contribute to the National Front's goals while Chirac, as a conservative, could conceivably help. But he would first have to put behind him the ``leftist bent'' displayed during the first-round campaign, Megret said. ``We may choose to question Chirac about his slogan ``France for all.' France for whom? Perhaps he will explain,'' said Megret, whose party is fervently anti-immigration as well as anti-Left. Both Chirac and Jospin have flatly ruled out making a deal with Le Pen in return for his endorsement but have both reached out to Le Pen voters with kind words and appeals for support. ``Not a blink of the eye,'' National Assembly speaker Philippe Seguin, a Chirac ally, said on RTL radio when asked whether the Chirac camp was prepared to make a gesture of recognition towards Le Pen. However, hardline Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, a former Chirac ally who sided with Balladur in the current campaign, made a naked pitch for the National Front vote on Monday, urging Chirac to propose partial proportional representation for parliamentary elections. The measure is eagerly sought by Le Pen because it would greatly enhance his party's role in national political life where it has little power today. The National Front has no seat in the National Assembly. Chirac has not yet stated a position on proportional representation. Both the Chirac and Jospin campaigns have characterised the Le Pen vote as a sign of protest against the major parties. But Megret insisted the National Front was not simply a short-lived phenomenon but a significant political force that would grow and prosper. He said the party would now focus on June municipal elections, concentrating on 81 cities where Le Pen had particularly strong support last Sunday.
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