(Reuters) – French far-right leader Marine Le Pen looks set to lose to far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon in parliamentary elections next month, dealing a blow to the National Front’s hopes for a strong national score, an opinion poll published on Sunday showed.
The rivals are running head-to-head in Le Pen’s political backyard, the northern working-class town of Henin-Beaumont, in national elections where she hopes momentum gained in the presidential vote will deliver the party its first parliamentary seat.
An Ifop-Fiducial poll showed that Le Pen would win the June 10 first round with 34 percent of the votes against 29 percent for Melenchon but would be beaten 55-45 percent by Melenchon in the June 17 second round.
Le Pen played down the poll findings.
“The polling institutes should be a bit more modest, in particular Ifop, which forecast that Melenchon and I would have an equal score in the presidential election, while I ended up with 18 percent and he with 11. Let’s wait for the election,” she told France 3 television.
Not winning the parliamentary seat on her home turf would be a humiliation for Le Pen, who came third in the first round of presidential elections in April, behind winner Francois Hollande and his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy.
For Melenchon, challenging Le Pen in Henin-Beaumont – where her National Front won 35 percent in the first round of the presidential election – is a bid to remain politically relevant after he finished well behind her in the presidential election.
“My objective is to catch up with her, to leave her behind me, and to eliminate her politically,” Melenchon told radio France Info.
Melenchon said Le Pen represented a form of “obscurantism that only exists by pointing the finger at people based on their religion or the color of their skin”.
“For them, the problem is the immigrant. For us, the problem is the banker,” he said and called on all those who are “angry, without being fascist” to join the leftist front.
The Ifop poll, published by the Sunday paper “Le Journal du Dimanche”, also showed that Socialist candidate Philippe Kermel would win 18 percent of the first-round vote in Henin-Beaumont and 56 percent if he were to make it into the second round.
Kermel is expected to withdraw from the second round if Melenchon has the higher first-round score and vice versa. The Ifop poll did not test the unlikely scenario of a disagreement on the left, with Melenchon and Kermel both running against Le Pen in the second round, which would improve Le Pen’s chances.
Unlike the presidential election, where only the two highest-placed candidates go through to the second round, in the parliamentary election any candidate backed by more than 12.5 percent of registered voters goes to the second round.
In many districts there are three and sometimes four second-round candidates, which means that smaller parties like the far left and far right can only win if they cut a deal with a Socialist or UMP candidate to withdraw his or her bid in exchange for a withdrawal in another district.
Le Pen’s National Front party, despite being a significant political minority in France for decades, does not have a single parliament seat, partly because Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party systematically refuses to make arrangements with the Front.
The only sure way for the National Front to enter parliament would be to convince local UMP parliamentarians to withdraw in the second round in exchange for a similar promise elsewhere.
UMP leader Jean-Francois Cope on Sunday reiterated his party would not negotiate with Le Pen.
“There will be no deals with the National Front,” Cope said on iTele television.
Opinion polls show that Hollande’s Socialist Party will trounce Sarkozy’s conservative UMP in the elections.
They show that the Socialists and other left-wing parties could together win 45-46 percent of the vote in the June 10 first round of the election, compared with about one-third for the UMP.
The left aims to build on Hollande’s May 6 victory, bringing the Socialists back to power after a decade in opposition.
Le Pen has said that even winning one seat in parliament would be a victory and called on disenchanted Sarkozy party members to join her in a new “nationalist and patriotic” grouping.
She believes that her strong showing in the presidential election – she had the National Front’s best-ever score, winning nearly one in five votes – will lead to the long-awaited breakthrough in parliament.