French President Emmanuel Macron will try to avoid a challenge from far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the second round of elections

French President Emmanuel Macron will have his work cut out over the next two weeks as he seeks re-election. He led the pack after Sunday’s first lapwinning nearly 28% of the vote, nearly five points ahead of far-right leader Marine Le Pen, with 23%.

The two now advance to the second round on April 24. This was the case five years ago too – but then Le Pen qualifying for the second round was a surprise.

This time, Le Pen ran his campaign with his eyes firmly on the presidential Elysee Palace prize.

The leader of the far-right National Rally party has toned down her extremist rhetoric and avoided tackling topics that might remind people that a change in image does not mean a change in policy. There was no mention of his hardline stance on immigration, Islam or national identity.

Macron is sure to change that over the next two weeks. It is expected that there will be a candidates’ debate, and it will raise these questions. He will also remind French voters that Le Pen has long been a fan of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Even as she condemned invasion of UkraineAnd very publicly given back to some of the refugees who fled to France, she still believes that Putin and France should be allies.

French presidential election
A screen shows French President Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen at their headquarters on election day in Paris on Sunday April 10, 2022.

Francois Mori/AP

The challenge for Macron now is to unite the left and the centre-left behind him for the second round. He said today he also wanted to reach out to Le Pen voters. He noted that he respected his opponent, but “I am fighting against Madame Le Pen’s ideas, I want to speak to her voters”.

Most of the 10 candidates who lost the first round yesterday called on their supporters to block Marine Le Pen. However, that doesn’t mean they will vote for Macron – they can just abstain.

When he rode on a wave of change and optimism Five years ago, Macron promised to rid France of the extremism that had brought Le Pen to the second round.

However, extremism is significantly higher today than then. A third of voters chose a far-right candidate yesterday. And a further 22% voted for the far left, meaning more than half of voters preferred an extremist – and Macron totally failed to deliver on his promise.

Sunday’s first round confirmed what was already a trend, as none of the traditional centre-left and centre-right candidates were able to garner even 5% of the vote.

Macron disappointed many left and centre-left voters who backed him in 2017 to block Le Pen. Many believe he is out of touch with what people are concerned about right now – the economy, their purchasing power and job security.

Opinion polls show that Macron is seen as a good statesman and the best man to lead the country in a crisis. The French believe he has done a good job overall in handling the Covid pandemic and backed his shuttle diplomacy on Ukraine. But that may not be enough to see him re-elected.

“Confidence in Emmanuel Macron is higher than ever,” Emmanuel Rivière, director of international polls at Kantar Public, told CBS News. “But when you want to be re-elected president, you have to offer something for the next five years. And I think it’s not clear what Emmanuel Macron proposes to do in the next five years.”

The same polls found that Le Pen was seen as more aware of people’s concerns and more likely to make changes to improve their financial situation. “We are very close,” Le Pen said on Monday. “I can win the second round.”

With just two weeks to convince voters to support them, the run-off candidates must persuade those who voted for the other 10 candidates – and the 26% who abstained – to vote for them. The contest is far from over.

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