An election too close to be called: Macron withers under pressure from a resurgent Le Pen

After having comfortably settled in pole position in the French presidential election, incumbent President Emmanuel Macron now finds himself in great difficulty a few days before the first round of the ballot, according to polls and political analysts.

Mr Macron shook up French politics five years ago by beating candidates from the main centre-left and centre-right parties that had dominated the country for decades. But he is generally not liked by the electorate and he can hardly be re-elected.

A Harris Interactive poll, taken during the first days of April, showed him winning a hypothetical second-round match against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen with a meager 51.5% to 48.5. %, within the poll’s margin of error. .

An Ipsos-Sopra Steria poll conducted on the same days showed slightly better results, with Macron winning with 54%, but still far less than his 66% landslide over Ms Le Pen in 2017.

A Le Pen presidency would have a dramatic impact on world affairs. She is a staunch ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and owes millions to Kremlin-influenced financial institutions that fund her campaigns.

She pledged to withdraw France from NATO and the American sphere of influence. She is a far-right populist who espouses racist and anti-immigrant views and is allied with former US President Donald Trump and far-right Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who won re-election on Sunday.

Political analyst Mujtaba Rahman of the Eurasia Group said a Le Pen presidency would pose an existential crisis for the European Union and NATO at a particularly crucial historical moment.

“It would fundamentally undermine the Western alliance,” he says. “The EU would no longer be able to present a coherent front against Russia in Ukraine. France would become a destructive partner within the EU, which would have profound implications for the EU’s ability to function and would fundamentally undermine the EU’s place in the world.

Many have blamed Mr Macron’s weakening performance on a lackluster campaign in which he focused on the role of former statesmen in defusing the Ukraine crisis while refusing to debate other candidates or to appear until recently on political talk shows. He held his first campaign rally on Sunday, just a week before the election.

“The war not only eclipses the political campaign, but it has spoiled his campaign calendar,” said Georgina Wright, of the Institut Montaigne, a French think tank.

“The French take their presidential campaigns very seriously and we had the feeling that he didn’t take them very seriously. People have the impression that when he campaigned, he used those TV spots to speak as a president rather than an activist.

In contrast, other candidates have taken the nation by storm and even visited expatriate voters abroad for months, and bragged about it.

“I campaigned seriously,” Ms. Le Pen, the 53-year-old daughter of French far-right sniper Jean-Marie Le Pen, said in a radio interview on Tuesday. “I have been in the field for six months. … others have chosen not to campaign, including the President of the Republic.”

Mr Macron, in a radio interview on Monday, attributed Ms Le Pen’s success to her failure to stem the rise of the far right. “I failed to stem it,” he said.

But others say Mr Macron, 44, has simply been overwhelmed by the more politically experienced Ms Le Pen, who has toned down her party’s traditional obsession with Muslim immigration in what appears to be an attempt successful in softening its image. Instead, she focused on key economic issues that preoccupy lower- and lower-middle-class French families, such as rising fuel and heating costs.

“To be honest, it’s more about Le Pen than Macron,” says Adele Stebach, Lillie-based analyst and correspondent for Europe elects, a news site that aggregates and evaluates European election results and polls. “She enjoys very strong momentum after shifting her party’s focus from security and immigration issues to purchasing power, inflation and wages.”

Under France’s two-round political system, voters will head to the polls on Sunday to choose from a dozen candidates, including leftists, rightists, environmentalists and agrarians. If, as is generally expected, no candidate secures an outright majority, the top two contenders will face each other in a runoff on April 24.

The 2022 campaign in general has generally been a dreary affair, revealing a crisis of inspiration and ideas within French politics. Politicians are urging increasingly less enthusiastic and cynical voters to vote for them. The streets are lined with monotonous images of candidates and empty slogans.

“The courage to do”, say the posters of the center-right candidate Valérie Pécresse.

“Another world is possible”, say the advertisements of left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon

Marine Le Pen takes the stage during a National Rally event in Fréjus


“All of us”, say those of Macron.

Many advertisements were defaced, but often in the same way, with contestants’ eyes gouged out to make them look like otherworldly ghouls.

Ms Wright suggested the agony of the Covid crisis is coloring the tone of the campaign season.

“The French are coming out of years of crisis after crisis,” she says. “Each candidate promises an outcome but rather than debating ideas, they campaign in parallel.”

Mr Macron, a pro-business cosmopolitan centrist and former investment banker, appeared just weeks ago to be heading for an easy victory after taking on the air of a statesman in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, in which he sought to play a leading diplomatic role. But his polls have steadily eroded since mid-March, while those of Ms Le Pen and Mr Melenchon, who also focus on economic and social justice issues, have surged.

Mr Macron has also been criticized for blowing over a billion euros on private consultants, including controversial US firm McKinsey, to help manage the Covid-19 pandemic. Mr Macron said there was nothing “troubled” or illegal about the contracts, but they reinforce a sense that the president is an aloof elitist. “With me, counseling groups will be gone,” Mr. Melenchon said.

I think it will be very close and I even think Le Pen could win. If I had to bet, I would even say that Le Pen will win

Adele Stebach, analyst

Ms Le Pen also benefited from the candidacy of far-right extremist Eric Zemmour, whose inflammatory rants against immigrants and Muslims made her appear relatively moderate. In recent years, even Mr. Macron and his aides have engaged in rhetoric demonizing France’s Muslim minority, normalizing such attitudes and allowing the views of Ms. Le Pen and her party to infect mainstream discourse.

Although his stump speeches focus on the economy, his National Rally party continues to demand an end to benefits for foreigners, an end to family reunification of immigrants and a ban on Islamic head coverings in spaces. public.

“The far right no longer frightens French voters,” Ms Stebach said. “A lot of people who didn’t consider voting for Le Pen before now do. I think it will be very close and I even think Le Pen could win. If I had to bet, I would even say that Le Pen will win.

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