Far-right routed in by-election shock

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THE far-right National Front has suffered a considerable set-back, losing its only seat in the French parliament in a by-election in Toulon. Although the margin of defeat was only 33 votes, the result was a stinging blow to the Front in one of its principal strongholds. A large part of the moderate, right-wing vote switched to the Socialist candidate, suggesting that many conservative French voters still regard the NF as beyond the pale. The French centre-right has been torn apart since some local leaders formed unauthorised alliances with the NF following the regional elections in March.

The Toulon result will help those leaders of the centre-right who insist that dealings with the Front are morally wrong and electorally suicidal. The NF candidate, Cendrine Le Chevallier, wife of the far-right mayor of the town, Jean-Marie Le Chevallier, had been widely expected to win the seat after topping the poll in the first round. The by-election was forced by the disqualification of her husband for breaking the campaign finance rules during the May 1997 general election. Although Ms Le Chevallier gained an extra 3,000 votes between rounds, the Socialist candidate Odette Casanava took an extra 5,000 on Sunday - most from the "moderate" right.

The stark fact remains that, with a turn-out of only 50 per cent, the NF attracted less than one in four of the possible votes in a city that it has controlled for three years.