Sunday

25th Feb 2018

France still anxious over possibility of Le Pen win

  • Can Le Pen win 11 million voters between the two rounds and beat Macron? (Photo: Reuters)

Can Emmanuel Macron actually beat Marine Le Pen?

As the centrist politician remains the favourite to win the French presidency on 7 May, doubts are emerging about his capacity to unite the French people against far-right leader in the election run-off.

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  • In an election where anti-establishment feelings led France's two main parties to defeat, Macron has become the system's candidate to block the far-right. (Photo: OFFICIAL LEWEB PHOTOS)

"Between Macron and Le Pen, all is not done," said the popular Le Parisien newspaper on Tuesday, summarising the growing anxiety.

On Sunday evening, the prevailing feeling was of relief that Le Pen did not come first and would face a moderate candidate in the run-off.

But a sinking feeling is now emerging that Le Pen, who obtained a record 7.6 million votes on Sunday, is making use of dynamics that could take her to a shock win if anti-Le Pen voters do not mobilise for Macron on 7 May.

According to the three opinion polls published since Sunday evening, Macron would win with 62 or 64 percent of the vote, to Le Pen's 36 or 38.

On Sunday, Macron admitted that he needed to "gather [people] even more widely [and] reconcile France to win in and tomorrow preside our country".

But the candidate, who was totally absent from the media on Monday, has come under criticism over the speech he gave to supporters, which was considered excessively celebratory and thin on the ground in terms of political content.

He has also come under attack over the dinner he held afterwards in a chic Parisian brasserie with political allies, some staff and a few celebrity supporters.

Critics said the event was reminiscent of Nicolas Sarkozy's controversial lush party at the Fouquet's restaurant when he was elected president in 2007.

"You understand nothing about life," Macron angrily told a journalist outside the Rotonde brasserie. He added that the dinner was "a heartfelt moment" and that he had "no lesson to take from the little Parisian circles".

The event was used by the Le Pen's National Front (FN) to describe Macron, a former banker, as the candidate of the elite and the finance sector, as opposite to Le Pen, who said on Sunday that she was "the people's candidate".

Le Pen's right-hand man, Florian Philippot, said that Macron's behaviour on Sunday was "arrogant" and "bling-bling", using a term that was often used to describe Sarkozy.

In a TV interview on Monday evening, Le Pen insisted that "nothing in Emmanuel Macron's project, nor in his behaviour, denotes any proof of [his] love of France".

'Ten little points'

In an election where anti-establishment feelings led France's two main parties - the Socialist Party and the centre-right Republicans party - to be defeated in the first round, Macron has become the system's candidate to block the far-right.

Le Pen mocked her opponent who "walks on a carpet of roses, with all the compliments from the press, in a kind of unanimity". She insisted that she was capable of catching up with him in the twelve days before the vote.

"Ten little points, believe me, it's totally doable," she said.

"I think we underestimate Marine Le Pen's result," Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, the head of the Socialist Party, warned on Tuesday morning radio.

"Despite a not so good campaign, she is in the second round," he noted, adding that a 40-percent result would be "a progression of 1 million votes" in comparison to the first round.

"She is marching forward," he said, referring to the name of Macron's movement, En Marche!

The left-wing daily, Liberation, for its part, wonders whether Le Pen "can win 11 million voters between the two rounds" and beat Macron.

Even if polls were accurate for the first round, predictions could be disrupted by voter abstentions, as many are wary of Macron, a newcomer with no structured party backing and an elitist image.

To keep his lead ahead of Le Pen, Macron needs to convince other candidates' supporters to vote for him, especially those who voted for the two strongest contenders behind the two finalists, conservative Francois Fillon and radical left Jean-Luc Melenchon.

In a contrast to 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen's qualification for the election's second round triggered massive demonstrations and mobilisation from right to left, a trending hashtag in social networks since Sunday is " #7maisansmoi" - 7 May without me.

Choice

Under this hashtag, social network users, many of them left-wing, say that Macron is an ultra-liberal and that his policies will be tough on poor people.

A popular slogan says that they don't want to choose "between fascism and what feeds it".

Melenchon, the candidate of the France Unbowed movement, an alliance of leftist parties including the Communist Party, has so far refused to support a vote for Macron. He received 7 million votes on Sunday - 19.58 percent.

According to polls, however, a majority of left-wing voters are expecting to vote for Macron, including between 52 and 62 percent of Melenchon voters.

On the right, Fillon's Republicans party said that "abstention cannot be a choice" and called on people to "vote against Marine Le Pen". It did not clearly support a vote in favour of Macron, because its supporters are divided over the issue, with a few leaders even saying to vote for Le Pen.

On Sunday, Fillon said that he would vote for Macron and insisted that "extremism could only bring hardships and divisions to our country".

But Common Sense, a conservative moment opposed to abortion and gay rights, has refused to vote against Le Pen. The movement, which says it has 10,000 members, has been seen as the most influential among the core of Fillon voters.

"How can we chose between chaos brought by Marine Le Pen and the political rotting [brought] by Emmanuel Macron," the movement's leader Christophe Billan said in an interview.

Dignity

After weeks of painting Macron as "baby Hollande" because he was an economy minister under the outgoing socialist president, leaders in the Republicans are having difficulties in being heard by militants when they now say that Macron shares the same "republican" and European values.

Polls being published since Sunday suggest that between 23 and 33 percent of the 7.2 million Fillon voters would choose Le Pen, with up to 30 percent abstaining.

To conceal the risk of losing an election that, for now, seems to be a sure bet, the Macron camp has called not to indulge in the satisfaction after Sunday's result.

"It is time that everyone comes back to their sense and understands that an election is never won in advance," En Marche's secretary general, Richard Ferrand, said on Tuesday in a radio interview.

"The dignity of the French men and women is to go to vote massively" to beat Le Pen, whose policies would "stunt" France, he added.

Analysis

French election run-off: Far right vs. EU

The run-off of the French presidential election will pit a pro-EU social-liberal Macron against anti-EU Marine Le Pen. Macron is likely to win but far-right support is higher than ever.

Voters 'change face' of French politics

Newcomer Macron and far-right leader Le Pen qualified for the presidential election run-off in a vote that pushed aside the two main traditional parties.

Far-right parties re-register to access EU funds

After missing a funding deadline, the far-right nationalist Alliance for Peace and Freedom and the Alliance of European National Movements are back in the game and possibly eligible for EU money in 2019.

Commission tells Macron to pick political side

A European Commission paper calls on parties to show their colours before the May 2019 parliament elections, and to choose their successor to Juncker before the end of 2018.

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