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Home World News Washington Post World News Le Pen Challenges Macron in French Presidential Election Watched Around the World

Le Pen Challenges Macron in French Presidential Election Watched Around the World

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PARIS – Polls have been opened in the second round of the French presidential election and are being followed closely around the world for its potential to improve France’s position in the Western world, the country’s approach to immigration and Europe’s relationship with to redefine Russia.

The latest poll average on Friday before a pre-election blackout period showed incumbent President Emmanuel Macron 10 percentage points ahead. A victory from far-right challenger Marine Le Pen seems unlikely, but is still possible.

One source of uncertainty: A Macron victory would mean a rare re-election for an incumbent in a country where voters are known for being ruthless towards their leaders. There is nowhere near the same enthusiasm for him as when he first joined in 2017, launching his own centrist political movement and becoming France’s youngest president.

In addition, the latest polls missed the profit margin in 2017 by nearly nine percentage points. This time the turnout could be crucial. And since the surprising success of the Brexit referendum in 2016, few in Europe are willing to count the unexpected.

macron vs. Le Pen 2022: what you need to know about the second round of the French presidential election

This election has already brought the far right closer to the French presidency than ever before. In the first round of voting on April 10, Macron received 28 percent of the vote and Le Pen 23 percent.

French President Emmanuel Macron tries to fend off a victory for far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in the presidential election on April 24. (Video: James Cornsilk, Rick Noack, Alexa Juliana Ard/The Washington Post, Photo: Jackie Lay/The Washington Post)

A victory for Le Pen, 53, would put an anti-immigrant populist in charge of the European Union’s second-largest economy and its only nuclear power. It would replace a staunch defender of the EU with a longtime critic of the bloc. Le Pen’s past admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and her recent calls for reconciliation between NATO and Russia have also raised concerns that a far-right victory would strengthen a leader who shares Putin’s worldview, who could become a major obstacle for Western aid to Ukraine.

Most candidates who failed to qualify for the second round begged their supporters not to vote for Le Pen. Her hopes now rest largely on the potential for high abstention rates among voters leaning towards Macron.

By noon, turnout stood at 26 percent, nearly two percentage points lower than at the same time five years ago, but one percentage point higher than in the first round two weeks ago.

Le Pen cast her vote on Sunday morning in the far-right stronghold of Hénin-Beaumont in northern France, taking the opportunity to mingle with the crowd that had been waiting for her outside the polling station and snap selfies with supporters. Macron was expected to vote in Le Touquet, a seaside town where he often stayed on election weekends.

During his first term in office, Macron, 44, repeatedly bet his future on risky political gambling with mixed results – passing tax cuts for the rich that offended many of his left-wing supporters, but also successfully introducing a vaccine pass in a of Europe’s most vaccine-skeptical countries.

Macron targets Le Pen for Russia, Putin ties in latest French election debate

His reelection strategy turned out to be another gamble. For the first round, he barely campaigned, but concentrated on the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. It’s not uncommon for French incumbents to dodge the campaign trail, but his decision allowed Le Pen, as she criss-crossed the country, to claim she was more attuned to the economic concerns of French voters.

If Macron’s last-minute campaign ends with a comfortable re-election, it would be an incentive for a president who has sometimes been underestimated.

But depending on the margin of his victory, Macron could also face a tough second term – marked by resistance on the streets and in parliament – ​​which could further polarize the country and strengthen the margins of French politics.

Nearly 60 percent of voters cast their first-round vote for far-right or far-left candidates.

“There will be very little enthusiasm,” said Vincent Martigny, a political scientist at the University of Nice. “The legitimacy of his mandate will depend on how wide the margin is — as well as how he reacts to the win.”

“The question is, will he hear the sense of malaise prevailing in the French electorate?” said Martigny. “Will he be able to change?”

When Macron faced Le Pen five years ago, he beat her by more than 30 percentage points. That the gap was in the single digits at certain points in this cycle suggests that Le Pen has managed to normalize her party and moderate her image.

How Marine Le Pen moderated her image and brought herself closer to the French presidency

Supporting the far right was unthinkable for many in France at the time when Le Pen took over from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was known for xenophobia and for making the Nazi gas chambers only a ‘detail’ of the Second World War. called World War.

Le Pen renamed the party from National Front to National Rally in 2018. She downplayed her family ties with campaign posters that referred to her as “Marine” or simply “M.”

But much of the party’s DNA has remained intact. In this campaign, Le Pen called for a referendum to end immigration to France, for women to be fined for wearing headscarves in public, and for a French-first approach to policies that would bring her into direct confrontation with the laws and values ​​of the European Union.

While terrorism was a dominant electoral topic five years ago, it plays a less important role in this campaign, partly because the risk of attacks seems to have decreased. But the subject continues to lurk in France – TV channels’ coverage was briefly interrupted on Sunday after a man allegedly attacked a priest with a knife in the city of Nice. Authorities later said the suspect, who was arrested, had undergone psychological treatment and that they were not treating the incident as terrorism.

Europe fears possible Le Pen presidency in France as a threat from within

Rather than security issues, Le Pen’s campaign focused largely on assimilating public frustration with Macron’s economic and social policies. She further encouraged the feeling that Macron, a former investment banker, has been a “president of the rich,” who can be aloof and arrogant.

In Hénin-Beaumont, where Le Pen cast her vote on Sunday, Joel Viville said on Saturday that he will vote for Le Pen “to have change”.

“Five years of hard times under Macron – enough is enough,” said Viville, 57, who is unemployed.

But Jean-Philippe Dahene, 56, said he was not convinced by Le Pen’s proposals. “I want to leave [Macron] have one more term to continue what he has put in place,” he said, referring to the series of crises that disrupted Macron’s presidency, including the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

Macron hopes that for all voters who hate him, more people will strongly oppose Le Pen.

“April 24 is a referendum on the future of France,” Macron told BFM television in a latest interview Friday night, comparing the stakes — and potential risks of abstention — to the 2016 US election and Brexit vote. “It’s a choice between whether or not to leave Europe… a choice between turning your back on ecology or not, a choice between giving up or not giving up the secular republic,” he said.

Macron’s approval rating has hovered around 45 percent in recent months. His two most recent predecessors, left-wing François Hollande and centre-right Nicolas Sarkozy, both had lower ratings towards the end of their one-term presidencies, with Hollande around 20 percent and Sarkozy around 35 percent. Sarkozy was not re-elected, while Hollande was not looking for a second term.

Birnbaum reported from Riga and Petit reported from Hénin-Beaumont, France.

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