On Monday, 24 April, France’s outgoing president Francois Holland urged people to back centrist Emmanuel Macron in a vote to choose his successor next month and to reject far-right leader Marine Le Pen, stating that her place in the run-off on 7 May represents a “risk” for the country. Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen, leader of the National Front (FN), go head-to-head on 7 May after taking the top two places in Sunday’s first round.
During a televised address, President Hollande, a Socialist, threw his weight behind his former economy minister, stating that Ms Le Pen’s policies were divisive and stigmatised sections of the population. He stated that “the presence of the far right in the second round is a risk for the country, adding “what is at stake is France’s make-up, its unity, its membership of Europe and its place in the world.”
In the days since Sunday’s vote, global markets have acted with relief, with the euro touching five-month peaks as surveys point to a clear macron victory, which has soothed investors who have been unnerved by Ms Le Pen’s pledges to ditch the euro, print money and possibly quit the European Union (EU). There were growing concerns of another anti-establishment shock following Britain’s “Brexit” vote and Donald Trump’s election as US president.
In recent weeks, opinion polls have indicated that Mr Macron, who has never held elected office, will take at least 61 percent of the vote against Ms Le Pen after two defeated rivals, Francois Fillon and Benoit Hammond pledged to back him in a bid to thwart her eurosceptic and anti-immigrant platform.
Late on Monday, Ms Le Pen disclosed that she was taking” a leave of absence” from leading the FN in order to focus on campaigning, in a move that appeared to be a mere formality that changes nothing in her campaign platform. Speaking to France 2 television, she disclosed, “I feel more free and above all, above party politics, which I think is important.” For months now Ms Le Pen has stated that she is not, strictly speaking, an FN candidate but a candidate backed by the FN. She has also long distanced herself from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the former FN leader, and her election campaign has put neither her party’s name nor its trademark flame log on her posters. She has instead focused on battling Mr Macron, highlighting the continuing threat of Islamist militancy, which has claimed more than 230 lives in the country since 2015, and stating that her opponent was “to say the least, weak” on the issue. She also stated that she wanted to talk to sovereignist Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who won nearly five percent of the first-round vote and who has not disclosed which side he would take in the next vote. She disclosed on Monday that “his platform is extremely close to ours. Patriots should come together to fight those who promote unbridled localisation.
Security has been a major issue in France in recent years, as the country has been affected by a number of terror attacks. Throughout her campaign, Ms Le Pen has promised to suspend the EU’s open-border agreement on France’s frontiers and expel foreigners who are on the watch lists of intelligence services. Meanwhile Mr Macron’s internal security programme calls for 10,000 more police officer and 15,000 new prison places. He has also recruited a number of security experts to his entourage. Opinion polls throughout the course of the campaign however have consistently found that despite the security issue, voters are more concerned about the economy and the trustworthiness of politicians. On Monday, Ms Le Pens’ campaign took aim at what they see as further weak spots: including Mr Macron’s previous job as an investment banker and his role as a deregulating economy minister under President Hollande.
Centrist Emmanuel Macron has kept his position as favourite to win France’s presidential election after a televised debate on Tuesday night, during which he clashed with his main rival, Marine Le Pen, over Europe. The debate comes just nineteen days before the election.
Criticising Ms Le Pen, the leader of the National Front (FN) who wants to leave the euro, hold a referendum on European Union (EU) membership and curb immigration, Mr Macron stated, “nationalism is war. I know it. I come from a region that is full of graveyards.” Mr Macron, who has voiced his strong pro-European views, comes from the Somme region, which was a major battlefield during World War One. Ms Le Pen however hit back at Mr Macron, stating “you should pretend to be something new when you are speaking like old fossils that are at lest 50 years old,” to which Mr Macron replied “sorry to tell you this, Madame Le Pen, but you are saying the same lies that we’ve heard from your father for 40 years.” The comment appeared to be a swipe at Le Pen’s efforts to clean up the image of the party that her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, founded and to make it more palatable to mainstream voters.
According to a snap survey, Mr Macron was seen as having the best political programme, with the survey also placing him as the second most convincing performer in the four-hour debate, which involved all eleven presidential candidates. The Elabe snap poll, which was tkane when the debate ended in the early hours of Wednesday, gave firebrand leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon, a veteran of France’s political circuit, first place as the most convincing performer. Ms Le Pen lagged in fourth place, behind Mr Macron and Francois Fillon. Mr Macron was also seen in the same poll as having the best programme of all the candidates by 23 percent of viewers, followed by Melenchon, whose ratings have been rising since the first televised debate in March, to the detriment of Socialist Party candidate Benoit Hamon.
While the Elabe poll did not show voting intentions, other surveys have consistently shown Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen qualifying for the 7 May runoff, with Mr Macron ultimately winning the presidential election. However the high level of undecided voters means that the ballot remains unpredictable.
It currently remains unclear if a final televised debate, due to take place on 20 April, will occur after several of the leading candidates have disclosed that it is being held too close to the election itself, with the first round of voting due to take place on 23 April.
Last week reports emerged that the centre-right UDI party will no longer campaign for Francois Fillon in France’s presidential election after he was placed under formal investigation. The presidential candidate has called a probe targeting him and his wife “political assassination” and has reused to quit the race.
While the UDI, which has about 30 MPs in the French parliament’s lower house, announced its support for Mr Fillon back in November, on 1 March it announced that iw as now “suspending” its backing. The party leadership is due to meet next week in order to discuss whether it will permanently withdraw all support for Mr Fillon. The party’s youth wing is already supporting his rival Emmanuel Macron.
The Republican candidate has been summoned by judges investigating allegations that he gave his wife a taxpayer-funded “fake job.” He has disclosed that he is due to meet with them on 15 March. On Friday it was announced that his spokesman has resigned. Thiery Solere’s resignation adds to a slew of notable departures, which include the campaign treasurer who resigned on 2 March. Two deputy directors and Mr Fillon’s foreign affairs spokesman are amongst others that have resigned, with more than sixty politicians stating that they can no longer support him.
Meanwhile on 2 March, Mr Fillon’s Paris home was raided by investigators as part of the inquiry into the payments to his Welsh-born wife, Penelope. The Le Canard Enchaine newspaper alleges that she was paid US $900,000 over several years for working as a parliamentary assistant for Mr Fillon and his successor, however she had no parliamentary pass, which raised questions over whether she did the work that she was paid for.
Mr Fillon’s ongoing woes have raised speculation that ex-PM Alain Juppe could return to the race, if Mr Fillon were to pull out. Mr Juppe was overwhelmingly defeated by Mr Fillon in the Republicans’ primary in November, securing only 33% of the vote to Mr Fillon’s 66%. Sources close to Mr Juppe have disclosed that he would be prepared to step in, but only with the unanimous support of the party and only if Mr Fillon were to go voluntarily. Mr Juppe has kept a low profile as the mayor of Bordeaux since his defeat in the primary.
The latest poll suggests that Mr Fillon would be eliminated in the first round of the presidential election voting on 23 April, and that far-right candidate Marine Le Pen would challenge independent centrist Emmanuel Macron in the two-candidate run-off on 7 May. A number of opinion polls have suggested that Mr Macron would win that contest.
The deadline for candidates to declare that they are running in the presidential election is 17 March, two days after Mr Fillon is due to appear before a judge overseeing the investigation.
According to an opinion poll that was published on 6 February, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron are set to make it through to the presidential election’s second round in May, with Macron comfortably winning the runoff.
The IFOP rolling poll of voting intentions indicated Le Pen garnering 25.5 percent of the vote in the 23 April first round of voting, up 1.5 percent since 1 February, with Macron getting 20.5 percent, up 0.5 percent over the same period. Conservative candidate Francois Fillon, who is in the midst of a political scandal, placed third with 18.5 percent, down from 21 percent. Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon has also lost momentum since his nomination in a primary vote and was not seen gathering 15.5 percent of the votes, down from 18 percent on 1 February.
On Monday, Fillon vowed to fight on for the presidency despite a damaging scandal involving taxpayer-funding payments to his wife for work, which a newspaper alleges she did not do. Speaking at a news conference in Paris, Mr Fillon, 62, apologised for what he said was his error of judgement regarding the employment of family members. While he disclosed that his wife’s work as parliamentary assistant over fifteen years had been genuine and legal, he noted that the campaign of “unfounded allegations” against him and his family would not make him abandon his bid for the presidency as the nominee of the centre-right. He stated, “there is no plan B,” dismissing reports that other centre-right candidates were being lined up to replace him, and adding “I am the only candidate who can bring about a national recovery. I am the candidate of the Right and I am here to win.” He announced that he would launch a new phase of his campaign from Tuesday. Mr Fillon, a former prime minister, called the news conference after members of his own party, The Republicans, urged him to quit the race to give the party time to find a replacement candidate. He will hop that his apology and denial of wrongdoing rally the party and voters behind him. Prior to the scandal surfacing in a weekly satirical newspaper nearly two weeks ago, opinion polls had shown Mr Fillon to be the clear favourite to win the election over Le Pen. Since then, his approval ratings have plummeted and he is now seen as failing to reach the second round of voting in May.
The stakes are high for France’s Right, which is battling to return to power after five years of Socialist rule under President Francois Hollande.
On Sunday 29 January, France’s Socialists picked left-winger Benois Hamon as their candidate for president, however it is unlikely that them over will help them with the election. It could however boost the campaign of popular independent centrist Emmanuel Macron.
With 60 percent of the votes in the Socialists’ primary counted, the ex-education minister had won 58.65 percent against his rival Manuel Valls, a former prime minister who is closer to the centre ground and who embraces pro-business policies. The Socialists, which have been weakened and divided after the deeply unpopular presidency of Francois Hollande, have been given next to no chance of getting beyond the first round of the election in April. However by choosing the 49-year-old Hamon on Valls, they have given Macron a big group of middle-ground voters to aim at and a better chance of beating his close rivals on the right and far-right.
Sunday’s results have also shown the deep fractures in the Socialist camp. It takes the party back to the traditional pro-worker roots, which got Hollande elected in 2012 and it rejects the U-turn that he made mid-way through his mandate – the as-yet unsuccessful bid to jump-start growth and jobs by forcing through business-friendly reforms. Analysts are now warning that if Hamon fails to make an impact on the campaign, where the Socialist candidate trails behind four others in opinion polls, it could lead to the party having very little say for the next five years or even lead to tis breaking-up.
The Socialist primary effectively provided the last candidate for the election and the battle lines are now sharply drawn in the race for the two-stage election, which will be held on 23 April and 7 May. Conservative Francois Fillon, the Republicans’ candidate, and far-right leader Marine Le pen are still seen by opinion polls as being able to meet in the May runoff. However Fillon’s campaign has been thrown of track by a press report accusing him of employing his wife as a parliamentary assistant on a big salary without doing any work. He has denied the charges. Opinion polls have also shown that the campaign of Mr Macron is also gathering momentum, with analysts noting that he could still upset the balance. Th centrist former economy ministers says that he wants to bridge the Left and the Right and has shunned any party patronage. Political campaigners have indicated that the Socialists’ choice of Hamon, a traditional left-winger, will only favor Macron’s campaign, noting that supporters of the business-friendly policies, who like Macron has steered centrist policies, are likely to give their vote now to the popular former banker.