FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen urged voters to choose “between Macron and France” as she held her final campaign rally in the northern town of Arras on Thursday, hoping to sway undecided voters ahead of Sunday’s final presidential vote.
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The leader of the Rassemblement National (National Rally) party ripped into President Emmanuel Macron in a fiery address to supporters, recovering the combative spirit that had largely deserted her during their televised debate on Wednesday.
Blasting her opponent’s “unbounded arrogance” during the debate, in which Macron is widely believed to have prevailed, Le Pen cast herself as the “president who will respect the French” versus an incumbent “who does not like them”.
“A president should not behave that way,” she said of Macron’s conduct during the televised face-off. “But are we really surprised? His contempt last night mirrored that with which he has treated the French people over the past five years.”
French presidential election © France 24
Le Pen, who is making her third run for the Elysée Palace, is hoping to be the first far-right leader of modern France and the first woman to hold the presidency.
>> Marine Le Pen: A political animal vying to win the Élysée Palace
The stakes are huge in the election, a rematch of the 2017 run-off between the same two candidates. That earlier contest was easily won by Macron but the margin is narrower this time.
A Le Pen victory would send shockwaves around the European Union, which she has vowed to radically reform if she wins power, remodelling it as an “alliance of nations”.
At the rally in Arras, in Le Pen’s northern heartland, she sought to frame Sunday’s election as a referendum on Macron, urging voters to choose “between Macron and France”.
“Manifestly, your choice is France,” she told the raucous crowd of supporters, calling for an “anti-Macron front” to oppose the “republican front” of mainstream parties that has traditionally acted as a bulwark to keep the far right out of power.
“To block [Macron], you cannot abstain, you must vote,” she added. “You must vote for the only front that is truly republican, the anti-Macron front.”
Le Pen has sought to project an image of competence and composure throughout the campaign, toning down her rhetoric and trademark belligerence in favour of a more “presidential” pitch.
The anti-immigrant candidate has spent the past five years trying to erase memories of her catastrophic televised debate with Macron in 2017, which even she has admitted was a flop.
But her attempt to dispel concerns about her fitness for the job was largely derailed on Wednesday as Macron zeroed in on her ties to Russia and her plans to ban Muslim women from wearing headscarves in public.
14:38 © France 24
Le Pen bristled at the incumbent’s charge that she was beholden to Moscow due to a €9 million loan she took from a Czech-Russian bank in 2014.
She had hoped to land punches on the issues of poverty and spending power but she struggled at times as Macron repeatedly questioned her grasp of economic figures.
Crucially, she mostly failed to put the incumbent on the defensive, allowing him to evade scrutiny of his turbulent five years in office.
“Like a boa constrictor, Emmanuel Macron seemed to gradually tighten his grip around his opponent until she suffocated,” wrote French daily Le Monde, describing the debate as a missed opportunity for Le Pen.
Following the debate, a snap opinion poll by Elabe for BFM TV said 59 percent of viewers found Macron the most convincing while 39 percent thought Le Pen had prevailed.
European leaders back Macron
Polls show Macron has a clear advantage over Le Pen of some 10 percentage points but allies warn nothing is in the bag due to the large number of undecided voters.
Both rivals have their eyes on left-wing voters and especially those who backed hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who narrowly missed out on a place in the run-off.
Mélenchon has urged his supporters not to give Le Pen “a single vote” but he has refrained from overtly backing Macron. An internal consultation of his party members showed a majority planned to abstain or cast blank, protest ballots.
Macron visited the low-income Seine-Saint-Denis region outside Paris on Thursday, hoping to win over voters who overwhelmingly backed Mélenchon in the first round.
He received the backing of fellow European leaders – German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa – who took the unusual step of writing a column on the French election that was published in several European newspapers.
>> Infographic: Macron vs Le Pen, world views at odds
“It’s the election between a democratic candidate who believes that France’s strength broadens in a powerful and autonomous European Union and an extreme-right candidate who openly sides with those who attack our freedom and democracy, values based on the French ideas of Enlightenment,” they wrote, without mentioning Macron or Le Pen by name.
Europe “is facing a change of era” due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the three centre-left leaders added, warning that “populists and the extreme right” are viewing Putin “as an ideological and political model, replicating his chauvinist ideas”.
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