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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Poll Wins Increase Le Pen's Influence

PARIS -- French hard-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, aware his National Front voters could decide the outcome of next Sunday's parliamentary election runoff, consulted party leaders on Monday on how to maximize their impact on the result.

The xenophobic National Front was basking in the political spotlight after scoring its best parliamentary election result, and analysts agreed its supporters would probably determine whether the left or right would govern.

The Front boasted that its candidates would be standing in a stunning 133 of France's 577 constituencies in the second round.

Official Interior Ministry results gave the Front a national first-round score of 14.9 percent, only slightly less than the party's record 15 percent that Le Pen won in the 1995 presidential election and significantly better than its 12.4 percent score in the last general election in 1993.

The ruling center-right suffered a stinging rebuke from voters in the first round, setting the stage for a possible upset victory by an alliance of leftist parties including the Socialists and Communists.

The Front, which advocates expelling 3 million immigrants and reserving housing, health care and welfare for native-born French citizens, scored best in its traditional eastern and southern strongholds but also showed impressive gains in central France and some parts of suburban Paris.

Most importantly, polls showed that Front voters' choices in the runoff would probably decide the ultimate winner.

Le Pen reserved his harshest campaign attacks for Gaullist President Jacques Chirac and said Sunday the first-round results were a defeat for the president, who should resign.

The extreme-right crusader said throughout the campaign that defeating the center-right and forcing Chirac to share power with a leftist government would derail the president's drive for European integration, which he called "Hitler's dream come true."

But the Front's No. 2, Bruno Megret, one of the party's best placed candidates to win a seat, hinted the Front might not issue any blanket recommendation for the second round.

"We will keep our candidates in the second round wherever they qualify and urge all those who are against Maastricht and who want social policies that break with globalism to join hands with us," Megret said on France Inter radio.

Tempering the Front's joy were pollsters' predictions that, despite its impressive share of the popular vote, the party was likely to finish with just one member in the National Assembly, where it now has none. The most favorable projections gave it just three seats.