MS Risk Blog

French Election: Leading Candidates Clash in First TV Debate

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The two leading candidates in the French presidential election clashed on Monday 21 March during a fiery TV debate.

Five candidates participated in Monday evenings debate: far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, centrist Emmanuel Macron, centre-right contender Francois Fillon, and left-wingers Benoit Hamon and Jean-Luc Melenchon. All five discussed the big issues for France, including jobs, terrorism and the countrys place in Europe.

Le Pen and Macron clashed over the full-body burkini swimsuit worn by some Muslim women, with Ms Le Pen stating that multiculturalism must end. Mr Macron accused the National Front leader of making enemies of Muslims in France. Throughout the debate, Mr Macron appeared to be keen to take on Ms Le Pen, arguing that the burkini was a public order matter and not a challenge to Frances tradition of secularism as Ms Le Pen has suggested. Last summer, a number of southern French resorts banned the swimsuit before Frances highest administrative court found that the ban breached fundamental freedoms.

During the debate, Mr Macron stated that he would change the countrys traditional political divisiveness, while Ms Le Pen said that she wanted a France that was not a vague region of the EU or subservient to Chancellor Angela Merkels Germany. She later vowed to stop all immigration. Meanwhile Mr Fillon stated that if was elected, he would be the president of what he called the national recovery. Mr Macron also appeared to take a swipe at Mr Fillon. After accusing Ms Le Pen of defamation, he stated that justice would prevail as it would in the case of certain presidential candidates. That was an apparent reference to the ongoing judicial investigation into allegations that Mr Fillon paid his wife hundreds of thousands of euros for parliamentary work that she did no do. Mr Fillon has denied the allegations and has refused to quit the race, stating that he is a victim of a political assassination. The candidates also clashed over how to tackle the unemployment situation, which has long stood at about 10%. In a bid to broaden her appeal, Ms Le pen called for a patriotic economy, which is a protectionist measure that favours French companies. Mr Fillon however stated that her plans would cause economic chaos. On the left, Mr Hamon called for the introduction of a universal basic income, which he said was the only innovative idea in the election campaign.

Focus groups have suggested that Mr Macron was the winner of the debate.

Voters will go to the polls on 23 April and if no candidate wins more than 50% of the votes, the two top contenders will go into a second round on 7 May. The latest Odoxa poll states that Mr Macron would lead first-round voting with 26.5 percent, just ahead of Ms Le pen on 26 percent, before beating her 64 36 in the run-off. Mr Fillon scored 19 percent of first-round voting intentions in the poll, confirming the task faced by the on-time frontrunner to revive a campaign that has been severely hit by the fraud investigation. A separate poll by Kantar Sofres-Onepoint showed a similar trend for the first round, with Mr Macron and Ms Lepen tied on 26 percent, ahead of Mr Fillon on 17 percent. The polls were taken before Mondays TV Debate.

On Saturday 18 March, the officials campaign period got under way when Frances Constitutional Council announced a list of eleven contenders who had met conditions to stand.