PARIS ( Associated Press) — President Emmanuel Macron is in pole position to win French re-election on Sunday, yet his lead over far-right rival Marine Le Pen depends on a major uncertainty: voters who decide to stay at home.
A victory in Sunday’s runoff vote would make Macron the first French president to win a second term in 20 years.
All opinion polls in recent days seem to converge towards victory for the 44-year-old pro-European centrist – yet the odds over his nationalist rival appear uncertain, varying between 6 and 15 percentage points depending on the poll.
Polls also predict that this second and final round could have a record-high number of people who either vote blank or stay home and do not vote at all.
The first round of votes on April 10 eliminated 10 other presidential candidates. Who becomes the next leader of France will largely depend on what those supporting the losing candidates do on Sunday.
The question is tough, especially for left-wing voters who dislike Macron But he also does not want to see Le Pen in power. Macron’s second term in part depends on his mobilization, prompting the French leader to issue several appeals to left-wing voters. In recent times.
“Think about what British citizens were saying a few hours before Brexit or (people) in the United States before Trump was elected: ‘I’m not going, what’s the matter?’ I can tell you that he regretted it the next day,” Macron warned on France 5 television this week.
“So if you want to avoid the unthinkable… choose for yourself,” he hesitantly urged French voters.
Both rivals appeared belligerent in the final days before Sunday’s election, including Wednesday clash in one-on-one televised debate,
Macron argued that loans to Le Pen’s party from a Czech-Russian bank in 2014 made it unsuitable for dealing with Moscow amid the invasion of Ukraine. He also said that his plan to ban Muslim women from wearing head scarves in public in France would trigger a “civil war” in the country, which has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe.
“When someone convinces you that Islam is equivalent to Islam, terrorism equals a problem, which is clearly called far-right,” Macron declared on France Inter radio on Friday.
In his victory speech in 2017, Macron promised to “do everything” during his five-year term so that the French “have no reason to vote for the extremists.”
Even after five years, that challenge has not been met. Le Pen has cemented its place on the French political scene, the result of a years-long effort to rebrand itself as less extreme.
Le Pen’s campaign this time sought to appeal to voters grappling with rising food and energy prices amid the fallout of Russia’s war in Ukraine. The 53-year-old candidate said reducing the cost of living would be the top priority If she was elected as the first female President of France.
He criticized Macron’s “catastrophic” presidency at his last rally in the northern city of Arras.
“I am not even mentioning immigration or security, for which I believe every Frenchman can only note the failure of Macron’s policies … His economic record is also disastrous,” she declared. he announced.
Mark Lazar, chief political analyst at the History Center at Science Po, told the Associated Press he thinks Macron is going to win again. Le Pen has “this lack of credibility,” he said.
But if Macron is re-elected, “there is a bigger problem,” he said. “The vast majority of people who are going to vote for Macron are not voting for this program, but because they reject Marine Le Pen.”
He said this meant Macron would face a “massive level of mistrust” in the country.
Macron has vowed to transform the French economy to make it more independent while at the same time protecting social benefits. He said he would also continue to push for a more powerful Europe.
His first term was rocked by yellow vest protests against social injustice, the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. It forced Macron to delay a major pension reform, which he said would resume shortly after re-election, gradually raising France’s minimum retirement age from 62 to 65. He says this is the only way to keep the benefits flowing to retirees.
The French presidential election is also being closely monitored abroad.
In an opinion piece on Thursday in several European newspapers, the centre-left leaders of Germany, Spain and Portugal urged French voters to choose their nationalist rival. He warned about “populists and extreme right-wingers” who position Putin as “an ideological and political model that imitates his conservative views.”
Le Pen’s victory will be a “painful moment, not only for France, but for the European Union and for international relations, especially with the United States,” Le Pen said, noting that Le Pen was “France”. and wants a distant relationship between the USA.”
In any case, Sunday’s winner will soon face another hurdle to being able to rule France: a legislative election in June will decide who controls the majority of seats in France’s National Assembly.
Already, the fight promises to be fought hard.
Associated Press journalists Katherine Gaschka and Jeffrey Schaefer contributed to that story.
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