French campaign ends in uncertainty and fear
By Eric Maurice
The official campaign for Sunday’s presidential election in France will end on Friday evening (21 April) in a climate of political uncertainty and fears of terror attacks.
Several candidates cancelled their last meeting in the wake of an attack on Paris’s Champs-Elysees Thursday evening, in which a policeman was killed.
Around 9:00 pm a man opened fire on a police van parked on the French capital landmark avenue, killing one officer and injuring two others. A passer-by was also slightly injured. The attacker was killed by other policemen.
The area was sealed off for several hours with dozens of people locked up in shops, restaurants and cinema around the Champs Elysees.
The Islamic State (IS) terrorist group has claimed the attack and French president Francois Hollande said that he was convinced that the attack was of “terrorist nature”.
He said that French security services would show “utmost vigilance” ahead of Sunday’s vote.
The Paris shooting came two days after two men were arrested in Marseille, in southern France, who were suspected of planning an “imminent” attack.
Several candidates had been put under special protection, with conservative candidate Francois Fillon apparently a target of the two suspected terrorists.
France has been under a state of emergency, granting special powers to the police and thousands of military on the street, since the attacks that killed 130 people in Paris in November 2015.
The Champs Elysees attack took place while the 11 candidates to Sunday’s first election round were on television, in a live show where each of them talked for 15 minutes to present their programme.
The show continued despite the incident, leading to a strange situation, where TV news channels were showing the heart of Paris sealed off under a terror scare, while the main public broadcasters were still airing the political candidates talking about issues, one of which was the “events going on in Paris”.
‘The fight against terrorism must be the priority of the next president,” said Fillon.
‘To be president is to protect. I want to protect you. I am ready,” said independent candidate Emmanuel Macron, while radical left Jean-Luc Melenchon promised that “criminals will never remain unpunished and their accomplices will never be forgotten”.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen insisted that “all is not done to protect our fellow citizens” and that she would put an end to “permissiveness” and “naivety”.
Two days before the vote these four candidates remain neck to neck in opinion polls, in a race where no one is assured a spot in the second round on 7 May.
The latest polls put Macron ahead of Le Pen, Fillon and Melenchon, but only between 23-24 and 18-19 percent of the votes, respectively, which remain in the margin of error. About 25 percent of voters are still uncertain of their vote.
The race is so close that pollsters now consider the possibility that they will not be able to give the names of the two second round runners at 8:00 pm on Sunday, as is usually the case.
With many voting stations closing at 7:00 pm, the pollsters may not have enough time to analyse exit polls fully, if the margins between each candidate are too close.
“We could, for example, show three faces” instead of two, Frederic Dabi from the Ifop polling institute, told France Info.