How Nicolas Sarkozy And Marine Le Pen Could End Up Gaining From The French Shooting Tragedy

President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Hebrew school where four people were shot

Photo: AP/Eric Cabanis, Pool

While the French presidential candidates’ campaigns may have been put on hold because of the shootings at a Jewish school earlier this week, the constantly-evolving series of events has analysts and politicians alike calculating who is likely to get the most political mileage out of the situation.The revelation that the main suspect, who is also accused of murdering two Muslim paratroopers, is not a right-wing Neo-Nazi, but Mohammed Merah, an Islamic extremist with links to al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan means this is election gold for far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Candidates Francois Hollande, Francois Bayrou, and Jean-Luc Melenchon were convinced the killer was a product of the growing “climate of intolerance” plaguing the country. They even went far as to accuse the tone of Le Pen’s and Sarkozy’s campaign (which had become more right-wing of late) for being responsible, according to the BBC.

Melenchon urged people to “choose their words and their quotations more carefully,” Hollande spoke about the risk of “words that influence”, a reference to Sarkozy’s remarks on the lack of integration of minorities, his plans to cut immigration, and the brouhaha over halal meat, and Bayrou said the FN was hoping to “surf” on the attacks, The Telegraph reports.

After the myth of a right-wing shooter was busted, Le Pen’s Front National, which might have been damaged if this had been an extreme right attack, said France should wage war against “these fundamentalist political and religious groups that are killing our children,” the BBC reports.

The suspect’s ethnic background has almost certainly ensured that immigration and the failure of national integration will be much-discussed in the coming weeks. Exactly what Le Pen wanted.

But the far-right is not the only one to benefit from the tragedy. While Sarkozy was as wrong as the rest of them in jumping to conclusions about the shooter’s affiliations, his handling of the incident has reintroduced the French to what he does best: crisis management. It’s what made him popular before the 2007 elections as France’s interior minister. Even as negotiations with the gunman go forward, Sarkozy has rushed to the scene, presenting the image of a decisive leader.

The crisis has helped him emphasise his experience over the “untested” Hollande. An Ifop poll showed that the French rate him better than Hollande on security by a 58- to-39 per cent margin, Businessweek reports. He’s also pulling ahead in first-round polls.

But these may be short-term gains. The first round of voting is over a month away (April 22) and France’s national focus on these attacks could soon fade, returning attention to the economy.

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