PARIS (AP) — French far right leader Marine Le Pen lost a legal battle Tuesday in her bid to run for president, with the Constitutional Court ruling that her backers' names must be made public.
It's an indirect victory for conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is trying to sap Le Pen's support with nationalist rhetoric in his struggle for a second term. A new survey released Tuesday shows Sarkozy gaining ground against the poll favorite, Socialist Francois Hollande.
Tuesday's court decision upholds current electoral law and puts added pressure on Le Pen and her anti-immigrant party two months ahead of the elections.
Current rules say that anyone wishing to run for president must submit signatures of 500 mayors or local officials supporting the candidacy. The signatures are then made public.
Le Pen enjoys solid support in opinion polls but says she has had a hard time obtaining signatures of the public officials. Le Pen's National Front party says mayors worry that their own careers could be hurt if they support the Front's candidates because of its extreme views, and argues the rule is unconstitutional.
The Constitutional Court took up the matter, but ruled Tuesday that the public signatures are constitutional and aimed at increasing political transparency.
"This publicity does not, in and of itself, underplay the principle of pluralism of ideas," the court ruled. It found that the rule does not violate principles of equality or secret balloting, as the National Front had argued.
National Front Vice President Louis Alliot said the decision was "regrettable" and "lacked courage." Several other politicians have also criticized the rule, saying it favors mainstream parties.
Le Pen has three weeks left to finish gathering signatures before a March 16 deadline, and Le Pen said on BFM-TV Tuesday night that she has promises of 430 signatures so far. The first round of voting is April 22.
Le Pen's father, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, predicted Tuesday that his daughter would obtain enough signatures in time.
Jean-Marie Le Pen railed against the signature rule during his multiple runs at the presidency. Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has been convicted of racism and anti-Semitism, stunned France and much of Europe by making it into the runoff in the 2002 presidential elections.
His daughter has sugarcoated his message and reached out to Jews, focusing anger instead at France's millions of Muslims. She caused waves this week by claiming that all meat sold in the Paris region is halal, or butchered according to Islamic law — a claim Sarkozy said was grossly inaccurate during a campaign stop in France's biggest wholesale food market Tuesday.
Sarkozy has been unpopular for most of his five-year term and is facing an electorate frustrated with economic slowdown and high unemployment.
A new poll released Tuesday night showed Sarkozy with his best showing yet after announcing last week that he would run for a second term.
The poll by CSA showed 28 percent of respondents would vote for Hollande in the first round and 27 percent for Sarkozy — a difference that would fall within the margin of error for a poll of this size, 1,014 people questioned by telephone on Monday. Le Pen had 17 percent.
However, respondents still said they'd largely favor Hollande in a runoff with Sarkozy, by 56 percent to 44 percent.
Sarkozy's announcement of his candidacy freed him up to hit the campaign trail.
"I need you," Sarkozy said Tuesday, visiting supporters in a town on the Atlantic coast devastated by a 2010 storm. "Help me in this fight."
Sylvie Corbet in Aytre, France and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.