The 'Trump effect' weighs on France's presidential election

PARIS (AP) — Donald Trump's election in the U.S. has given a new boost to conservative leaders in what may be the next major populist battleground, France, where far-right leader Marine Le Pen is convinced that her anti-immigration, anti-Islam views can lead her to the presidency in five months.

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy, running to get his job back, says that Trump's election shows that politicians must listen to "the wrath of the people."

"Mr. Trump wants to defend American interests? Fine, I want to defend French interests and those of Europe. What Americans allow themselves, why should we refuse that for France?" Sarkozy said in a rally in the southern city of Nice on Tuesday night.

Sarkozy is facing tough competition in his party's two-round primary that starts Sunday. Polls have repeatedly placed him behind ex-Prime Minister Alain Juppe.

Another major contender, former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, is gaining popularity as he also presents himself as an alternative to Sarkozy.

Lucas Moulin, a 19-year-old supporter of Sarkozy who attended his Nice rally, told The Associated Press that Trump's victory can give his preferred candidate "strength and credit in public opinion.

"He presents himself as an anti-system candidate, with an anti-elite speech, like Trump, who won," Moulin said.

Sarkozy is campaigning on some of Le Pen's favorite issues, including strong anti-immigration and security measures, in the hope to attract votes from the far-right.

Le Pen, who doesn't face a primary, opened her campaign headquarters for the April-May election in an upper-class Paris neighborhood on Wednesday.

She has chosen a blue rose to illustrate her campaign as "the symbol of the people being able to make possible what the elites constantly present as impossible ... My election at the presidency has been called impossible for months now, it is up to the people to make it possible," she said in her speech.

All recent polls suggest that she could reach the final run of the two-round presidential election next year. The same polls also indicate that in the end, she would lose to any major contender from the right or from the left.

Asked about Le Pen's chance to win the election next year, French political analyst Dominique Moisi told the AP that "I would be, and I think most people are becoming now, much, much more prudent than before. I mean: we were wrong twice," referring to the unexpected Brexit vote and Trump's election. "We don't want to be wrong a third time".

Moisi said an "anti-Trump effect" might also have an impact on the conservative primary. If so, Juppe could benefit from votes from people who fear Le Pen and consider him as in best position to defeat her.

"Obviously we don't know what's going to happen next Sunday" at the conservative primary, Moisi said.

"It's difficult for Sarkozy to claim that he is the candidate of the anti-establishment," Moisi said. "For five years, he was the president of France, he was sitting at the Elysee Palace. He had all power in his hands. But that's what he's trying to achieve."

Juppe is trying to play this card, saying that he is banking on truth, gravity and a sense of responsibility rather than populism. He says he wants to bring together voters from the right and the center instead of chasing after those who have chosen the far-right.

"I don't want to pit one part of France against another, the elites against the people ... It's a dangerous political game," Juppe told thousands of supporters at a Paris rally on Monday.

On the left, the situation remains unclear. Unpopular President Francois Hollande hasn't said yet if he will run for re-election as his Socialist party organizes its primary in January. Other far-left, green and independent candidates are also planning to run.

Hollande's ex-economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, announced his candidacy on Wednesday.

Macron, a former investment banker who has never held elected office, promotes free-market views and denounces the "vacuity" of France's political system as preventing the country to reform itself.

In other European countries, populist parties are expected to do well as votes are due in the coming year in the Netherlands and Germany. A repeat runoff election for president of Austria on Dec. 4 could bring right-wing populist Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party into office.


Milos Krivokapic and Margaid Quioc in Nice and Oleg Celtinic in Paris contributed to this story