Campaign in France: Macron and Le Pen fight for the last votes after the electoral debate | International

Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen launched this Thursday for the last votes they need to become the president – or president – of France for the next five years on Sunday. After a temporary break to prepare for Wednesday’s debate, the only face-to-face of the presidential elections, the campaign has resumed strongly this Thursday. The outgoing president and the far-right candidate have until midnight from Friday to Saturday to convince voters who still doubt, after a dialectical duel that has not been a turning point in the race to the Elysee.

“It is our compatriots who will speak on Sunday. Until the last moment, nothing is won, ”said Macron in his first statements after the electoral face-to-face. “You have to give everything”, Le Pen agreed —for once— before starting his day that, on the same day that 20 years ago, his father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, managed to qualify for the National Front for the first time ( today National Regrouping, RN) in the second round, gave its last campaign rally, in the north of the country.

The polls gave the centrist president the winner of Wednesday’s debate: 59% of viewers considered him “more convincing” than his far-right opponent, who obtained the approval of 39% of the audience, according to the Elabe institute. Despite this, the debate – which was seen by 15.6 million people, almost a million less than in 2017 – has not marked a turning point in the campaign. Hence, Le Pen and Macron have not been slow to hit the road again.

Both chose “popular” places to scratch those last not insignificant votes, although the polls once again give a wider margin -over 10 points- of advantage to Macron over Le Pen. In any case, very far from the more than 30 points (66% compared to 34%) that it got five years ago, which analysts consider one more example of the success of the normalization process or dediabolization of Le Pen, undertaken a decade ago and intensified in these five years of macronism.

The President of the Republic opted for Saint-Denis, on the outskirts of Paris and with one of the highest abstention rates in France; a multicultural territory with a Mélenchonist vote and that Macron is intensely courting (the leader of France Insumisa, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, won 61% of the votes in the first round in this town). Meanwhile, and before giving his last rally of the campaign in Arras, in the north of the country, a traditional stronghold of the RN, Le Pen stopped on the way to get into a truck parked at a rest area in Roya, in the Somme department, another territory that voted mostly for her. “I am the candidate of the France that works and for whom the Government does not make life easy for her,” she proclaimed after getting off the truck, whose bumper carried a banner lamenting the sentence “to death of truck drivers” that the increase in the price of the fuels.

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Marine Le Pen in a yellow truck shortly before her rally in Arras. YVES HERMAN (REUTERS)

The far-right leader has made purchasing power the main argument of her campaign. But even though she fared better in Wednesday’s debate than her catastrophic 2017 one, which brought her first Elysée final to an abrupt end and almost ended her political career, Le Pen failed to appropriate the issue that most concerns the public. French in these elections. In fact, in a tense exchange, Macron managed to largely destroy Le Pen’s proposals, such as a general reduction in VAT on fossil fuels, which the far-right candidate proposes to combat exacerbated inflation (although less than in other countries). like Spain) due to the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. The latter also served for Macron to launch his harshest —albeit expected— attack on the far-right candidate, who until the war did not hide her closeness to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and whose party has a loan with a related Russian bank. to the Kremlin.

from roy, as from Arras, surrounded by faithful who chanted “Marine president!”, Le Pen reiterated that she is “the only alternative to the system, a popular and social alternative to this oligarchic power, the power of a few for the benefit of a few how many”. He also criticized her rival during the debate. “I had before me the usual Emmanuel Macron, very contemptuous, very arrogant. Something that, I think, does not surprise any Frenchman who has suffered in his own flesh that arrogance and contempt for the last five years”, he added in reference to one of the weak points of the president, who made great efforts during the two and a half hours of debate to avoid giving that haughty image that has burdened him throughout his term and that could play against him on Sunday.

For the director of the Europe program at the Montaigne Institute think tank, Georgina Wright, although Le Pen managed to be more “empathetic” than Macron, the debate “has failed to convince the undecided.” “Those who criticize Macron for his arrogance found him insensitive and Le Pen, often criticized for her lack of precision and for her extreme positions, maintained proposals considered extreme, especially in terms of the Islamic headscarf. [que Le Pen confirmó quiere prohibir en los espacios públicos] and immigration, so I don’t think she has managed to convince those who criticize her for it,” she analyzed.

From Saint-Denis, to where he traveled to “send a message of ambition and consideration to all neighborhoods” with a strong migrant population, “too often stigmatized”, Macron rejected the accusations of arrogance launched by his rival, which he reproached “not having other arguments” of weight to fight it. “We have shown a lot of respect for each other, but the fact is that we are fighting two projects that are not reconcilable,” said Macron, who met with the mayor of Saint-Denis, the socialist Mathieu Hanotin, as well as with associations locals to “discuss the problem of unhealthy housing and urban renewal projects”. Macron’s nods to the left have been constant since the first round, held on April 10, showed that the field on the left, despite being very divided, still has a strong vote base, even key to winning this Sunday. .

Analysts believe that the voters of Mélenchon, who has asked that “not a single vote” of his followers go to Le Pen on Sunday, but who has avoided explicitly requesting the vote for Macron, could decide the balance on Sunday, which for now in any case, he is favorable to the outgoing president, who has an advantage of about ten points over his rival. Solid, but not necessarily irreversible and, above all, much smaller than five years ago.

“We are optimistic, I think that on Sunday we have a historic opportunity, we have never been so close to the goal,” Julien Sanchez, spokesman for Le Pen, told EL PAÍS in Arras. “We can win on Sunday, because Macron today is much more detested today than Marine Le Pen, who has been able to speak to the popular classes on issues that interest the French (…) people do not want a president who despises them.”

In recent days, Macron has once again made electoral promises on issues that concern young people —many of whom are very indignant about a second round in which they say they see no great differences between the candidates— and the Mélenchonists, especially in terms of ecology. , which she reiterated in the debate, accusing Le Pen of being a “climatosceptic” (“climatohypocrite”, she replied).

The official campaign posters of the candidates for the 2022 French presidential election, in Herbeville, France, this Thursday. On video, the debate between Macron and Le Pen, in four moments.Photo: Benoit Tessier

The centrist also managed to get Le Pen to show her cards around an issue, the Islamic veil, which could be a turning point for Mélenchonist voters, often branded as “Islamo-leftists” by Le Pen herself.

Despite this, Macron avoided at all times qualifying Le Pen as extreme right. A strategy that could seek to “not offend” the third of the French who vote again and again for Le Pen and other ultra candidates, but which, according to Georgina Wright, has contributed to the “normalization” of the extreme right in which it leads The leader of the RN has been working for years. The debate was the “culmination of the project of the extreme right of the last five years: the fact that the RN is perceived as a party almost mainstream and that Le Pen appears as a moderate candidate or, in any case, less radical”, he warns. From Arras, Le Pen called on the French “not to listen to the merchants of fear” and to vote for her on Sunday. The packed congress hall of this town of 40,000 inhabitants erupted in applause and shouts of “we are going to win”.

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