National Front brought to account in Toulon

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France's extreme-right National Front might be removed from power in the southern port city of Toulon after election accounts were rejected by the official scrutineer on a technicality. Toulon gave the Front a signal victory in June, when it became the first French city of more than 100,000 inhabitants to elect an extreme-right council.

The regional election authorities in Nice have instituted further inquiries to determine whether the offence is such as to force an election re-run. An alternative would be for the mayor, Jean-Marie Le Chevallier, to be barred from office for a year.

As many as 135 of the thousand or so new mayors elected in June have had their victories queried, mostly in connection with overspending or dubious bookkeeping, but the National Front's alleged offence in Toulon is different. The party is said to have breached a regulation that bars the person named as election accounts officer from standing in the electoral list. In Toulon, the man responsible for the Front's election accounts, Jean-Claude Poulet-Dachary, was also the fifth name in the Front's list of candidates. He subsequently became head of the mayor's office and, in effect, his number two.

Toulon voters are reported to be up in arms, seeing the scrutineer's move as an attempt by Paris to deprive the Front of a democratically won victory.

The Chirac government does not hide its dislike of the extreme right and has already intervened in another Front-won council, the city of Orange, stepping in to fund a multicultural song-festival that the new council had refused to support.

In all, the Front's experience of elected office has not proved easy. In Toulon, the rejection of its election accounts exacerbates an already difficult situation. In August, the same Mr Poulet-Dachary whose responsibility for the accounts has been queried was found dead in mysterious circumstances in the hallway of his block of flats. While Mr Poulet-Dachary was known to have been subject to death threats and a murder inquiry was announced, his death brought out details of his private life as a militant homosexual which compromised the Front's claims to being beyond moral reproach. It also highlighted divisions in the Front's local and national branches, where he had been a controversial figure, and prompted renewed in-fighting among those competing for the succession to Jean-Marie Le Pen, the Front's leader.

The fact that Mr Poulet-Dachary combined the roles of treasurer and candidate also exposes one of the Front's key problems now that it enjoys elected power: its serious lack of officials with administrative experience. Mr Poulet-Dachary, a former Foreign Legion officer, with an impeccable academic record and years of administrative experience, was one of few so qualified.