In the first round of voting on April 22, Sarkozy finished second—the first time a sitting president has done so in the history of the Fifth Republic. In a bid to recover, he has made a cynical attempt to win over the first-round supporters of the National Front’s Marine Le Pen (while formally opposing an actual pact with the party), despite the Front’s deep hostility toward immigrant communities and the European Union, and the fact that its founder (her father, Jean-Marie) had a well-deserved reputation for racism and anti-Semitism. Le Pen is “compatible with the Republic,” he stated soon after the initial voting. Sarkozy’s stunning acknowledgment of Le Pen’s legitimacy can only help her cause: In the days after the first round, nearly two-thirds of Sarkozy voters told pollsters they favored an electoral pact with her party in the legislative elections that will follow soon after the presidential campaign. Le Pen herself clearly wants Sarkozy to lose, declaring that she will cast a blank ballot in the second round. She has called the UMP no different from the Socialists, and, indeed, her nationalist stance offers a starker alternative to the two major parties than they do to each other. Can this alternative achieve major party status? Having helped to dissolve the traditional French right while failing to replace it with a coherent or popular ideology of his own, it now appears possible that Nicolas Sarkozy’s principal legacy will be the rise of Marine Le Pen.
More on Le Pen at Telegraph UK, "French election: Brachay, the village that holds the clues to Marine Le Pen's success."
And see Reuters, "Voting starts in France, Sarkozy headed for defeat."