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Swiss startled by Le Pen upset in French elections

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Paris after the results

(Keystone)

Switzerland has joined a disapproving chorus after the far-right candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen, won enough votes to qualify for a runoff in the French presidential elections.

Le Pen will face conservative President Jacques Chirac in the May 5 second round, while Lionel Jospin, the current prime minister, is out of the race and announced on Sunday that he would resign from politics altogether.

Swiss newspapers and politicians expressed their concern at the result, which Der Bund described as a "political earthquake" and a "shock for the whole of Europe."

Le Temps said the functioning of the French democratic system had been called into question. The Swiss paper noted a worrying rise in all extreme parties, both from the far-left and the far-right, amounted to the "complete rejection of the current parties in power."

The Tribune de Genève said an important part of the French electorate had turned to "politicians who could promise them an arsenal of dead ideas and illusory promises." The paper noted the rise of far-left factions such as the Trotskyite party, in the election.

The Tages Anzeiger said the result had come to the "surprise and consternation" of observers. It attributed Le Pen's victory to a wave of protests against established political parties and to the low turnout to the votes, the paper said.

Swiss politicians shaken

The Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, said the results were "unimaginable" and a "horror for the French."

The speaker of the Social Democratic party, Jean-Philippe Jeannerat, said Le Pen's success was testimony to the ongoing success of the National Front, adding that France was not the only country where this was in evidence.

The leader of the Christian Democrats, Jean-Philippe Maître, attributed the results to a "high number of protest votes." He said the fall of the left was due to the weak policies of the Socialist party. He added the French were not the only voters attracted to far-right parties - Swiss People's Party had also won favour with Swiss voters.

The president of the Radical Party, Gerold Bührer, described Le Pen's result as a "dangerous signal" and said it was a testimony to the "latent frustration among French voters."

French voters in Switzerland

Claudine Schmidt, responsible for tallying up the French votes in Switzerland, said Chirac received three times as many votes as Le Pen on Sunday.

In France, shock was reflected in mass protests in Paris, with 10,000 demonstrators shouting "Right and left, united against Le Pen!" or "Le Pen, fascist!" Some protesters also waved hastily made placards that read "I am ashamed."

Although turnout in Sunday's election was more than 70 per cent of the 40 million strong electorate, the 28.5 per cent who did not vote was considered substantial for France, where elections traditionally draw high turnout.

swissinfo with agencies

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