PARIS – On the last day of France's tense presidential campaign, extreme-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen predicted widespread electoral fraud in Sunday's vote — perhaps preparing his faithful for defeat — while President Jacques Chirac urged liberal voters to side with him, even if it pains them.
Chirac sounded an urgent plea on Friday, asking voters of all political leanings, but particularly those of the left, to "stand in the way" of Le Pen, whom he called an "extremely dangerous" man.
"In the exceptional situation we find ourselves in today," Chirac told France-Inter radio, "we must defend the values that all non-extremist Frenchmen have in common."
As both candidates wrapped up their 12-day campaigns, polls continued to predict a landslide victory for Chirac. French election laws require all campaigning, political declarations and street protests to stop 24 hours before election day.
Le Pen alleged that a massive vote-rigging scheme would hurt him, in remarks that appeared aimed at bracing his supporters for loss.
"We are going to witness an enormous enterprise of fraud," Le Pen told a news conference.
As a purported example, Le Pen held up two ballots — one for Chirac and one for himself. The one for Chirac was slightly whiter, which Le Pen said was an effort to make voting for him less desirable — if only subliminally.
Le Pen also complained that his campaign posters were not being displayed, postal carriers were refusing to deliver his election materials to French households and that his supporters were being harassed
"A climate of totalitarianism has settled in our country," he said, adding that his campaign director would meet with election authorities to discuss those issues. He indicated he might contest the election result if his performance appeared to be abnormally low.
A poll published Friday in daily Le Figaro indicated that Chirac would win between 75 and 82 percent of the vote and Le Pen would receive between 18 and 25 percent. The survey of 1,012 registered voters was conducted Tuesday to Thursday by the Ipsos polling agency.
Le Pen has been the object of nationwide protests since his electoral upset in the April 21 first round, which qualified him for Sunday's runoff against Chirac and pushed Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin out of the running.
The near daily street rallies against Le Pen came to a head on Wednesday, when well over a million people marched through the streets of France to show their opposition to the ultra-right leader. Some 10,000 people turned out for a pro-Le Pen rally in Paris.
Le Pen said Friday the protests against him showed his opponents were leading a campaign of "hate, insults, and calls to violence."
As leader of the National Front party, Le Pen has campaigned on an anti-immigrant, pro-France platform. He says he will pull France out of the European Union, deport all illegal immigrants and give French citizens priority in jobs, housing and social benefits. He opposes abortion, supports the death penalty and would build 200,000 new prison cells in France.
The National Front "does not have anything in its program which could be considered as fascist," Le Pen told the CBS evening news on Friday. "I am a patriot just like the American people. I love my country, but that doesn't mean I hate other countries. I don't have tendency to Xenophobia. I am just a Francophile."
The candidate also told CBS that he supports the U.S.-led fight against world terrorism.
"I consider myself a friend of the U.S., but as a friend, I am very frank and I tell my friends very direct things. But I am totally with the United States in the struggle, the battle against terrorism."
Chirac's platform carries more conventional promises: fighting rising crime, cutting taxes, reducing unemployment.
Chirac said Friday he "understood" and "respected" those who voted for the left in the first round but would not modify his political platform to lure liberal voters, saying that his vision for France encompassed "the interests of all the French."