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Tuesday, December 06, 2022

In France, a nail-biting election escalates as Macron’s rival

POISSY, France ( Associated Press) — From the market stall outside Paris she’s been running for 40 years, Yvette Robert can see for the first time how prices are driving up in France’s presidential election And Sunday’s first round of voting turned a nail-biter for incumbent President Emmanuel Macron.

Buyers, worried about how to make ends meet, are buying small quantities of Robert’s neatly stacked fruits and vegetables, she says. And some of its customers no longer flock to the market for its baguettes, cheeses, and other delicious offerings. Robert suspects that with fuel prices so high, some can no longer afford to take their vehicles shopping.

As campaigning for one of the two-part French election drama, held against the backdrop of Russia’s war in Ukraine, on Friday, he said, “People are scared – whatever is going on, fuel prices are going up.” with,” she said on Friday.,

Macron, a political centrist, seemed like a shoo-in for months, becoming the first president of France to win a second term in 20 years. But that landscape blurred in the closing stages of the campaign. Inflation and the pain of pump, food and energy prices, which hit low-income households particularly hard, later returned as major election topics. They could lead many voters on Sunday into the arms of right-wing leader Marine Le Pen, Macron’s political nemesis.

Macron, 44, tramples on Le Pen by landslide To become the youngest President of France in 2017. The victory of the former banker, who, unlike Le Pen, is an ardent supporter of European cooperation, was seen as a victory against the populist, nationalist politics that was coming in the wake of Donald Trump’s election to the White House. and Britain’s vote to leave the European UnionBoth in 2016.

In wooing voters, Macron has to point to economic breakthroughs: The French economy is rebounding faster than expected from COVID-19, with a growth rate of 7% in 2021, the highest since 1969. Unemployment is down to a level not seen since the 2008 financial crisis. When Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 FebruaryMacron also got a voting bump, sparking Europe’s worst security crisis since World War II, with people rallying around the war leader.

But Le Pen, 53, is now more polished, formidable and knowledgeable As a political foe, she makes her third attempt to become the first female President of France. And he has campaigned particularly hard and for months on concerns of survival, capitalizing on the issue that is most important to voters’ minds.

Le Pen also made two remarkable feats. Despite his plans to dial back some rights for Muslims in France and reduce immigration, he has nevertheless reassured a growing number of voters that he is no longer the dangerous, racist nationalist extremist that critics including Macron have criticized. accused them.

He has done this partly by reducing some of his rhetoric and fierceness. He also got outside help: a president run by Eric ZemourAn even more extreme right-wing rabble-rouser With a repeated conviction for hate speech, Le Pen has had the knock-on advantage of almost mainstreaming his looks by comparison.

Second, and surprising too: Le Pen has deftly shrugged off any significant blow to his previous alleged closeness with Russian President Vladimir Putin. She went to the Kremlin to meet him That potential embarrassment did not turn Le Pen’s supporters against him, during his final presidential campaign in 2017, but in the wake of the war in Ukraine. She called the attack “absolutely unforgivable” and said Putin’s behavior “cannot be forgiven in any way.”

At her market stall, Robert says she plans to vote for Macron, partly because of the billions of euros (dollars) her government has earmarked to keep people, businesses and France’s economy afloat due to COVID-19. Dropped at the height of the pandemic. When the food markets closed, Robert received 1,500 euros ($1,600) a month to deal with it.

About Macron, she says, “He didn’t leave anyone on the side of the road.

But she thinks Le Pen has a chance this time around.

“He has changed the way he speaks,” said Robert. “She has learned to moderate herself.”

Barring a nasty surprise, both Macron and Le Pen are expected to lead again from a first-round field of 12 candidates, to set up a winner-takes-all rematch in a second-round vote on April 24. Polls show that far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon is likely to drop out of the race in third place. Voting takes place on Saturday in some of France’s overseas territories in the Pacific, the Caribbean and South America, before voting on Sunday on the French mainland.

When Macron halted a campaign in early March in Poissy, a city west of Paris, where Robert set up his stall, the pollsters led him to Le Pen by double digits. Although Le Pen’s victory still seems unlikely, much of Macron’s advantage has since vanished. With Ukraine engulfed in war, Macron may have to pay the price for his somewhat stifled campaign, which alienated him from some voters.

Retired tax collector Mary-Helen Hirrell, 64, voted for Macron in 2017 but says she is too angry with him for having to do it again. Struggling over her pension with rising prices, Hirrell said she is looking to turn her vote to Le Pen, who has promised cuts in fuel and energy taxes, which Macron says would be disastrous. .

Although Le Pen’s “relationship with Putin worries me,” Hirrell said that voting for him would be a way of protesting against Macron and that she regarded it as his failure to better protect people from the brunt of inflation. Is.

“Now I am also a part of the ‘All Against Camp’ against Macron,” he said. “He’s fooling all of us.”

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