The National Times - Le Pen in final push ahead of tight French election battle

Le Pen in final push ahead of tight French election battle

Le Pen in final push ahead of tight French election battle
Le Pen in final push ahead of tight French election battle

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen made a final push for votes Thursday, three days ahead of an election which polls project as an increasingly tight battle against President Emmanuel Macron.

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The incumbent had built what seemed like an unassailable lead ahead of the first round of polls Sunday but Le Pen has eroded the margin and feels she has a real chance of winning the run-off on April 24.

With France's traditional right- and left-wing parties facing electoral disaster, far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon is on course to come third and he still believes he can sneak into a run-off.

Le Pen was to hold her last campaign rally on Thursday evening in the southern stronghold of Perpignan where her National Rally party has long had strong support and runs the local council.

In an interview with RTL radio, the anti-immigration politician vowed to ban the Muslim headscarf in all public spaces saying it would be enforced by police in the same way as seatbelt-wearing in cars.

The latest OpinionWay-Kéa Partners survey showed Macron falling back to 26 percent in the first round and Le Pen edging up to 22 percent, with Melenchon also gaining ground on 17.

Macron was projected to beat Le Pen in the second round with 53 percent to her 47 -- a narrower margin than the same pollsters forecast last week.

A new Ifop-Fidicual poll showed similar trends of Macron slipping and Le Pen gaining with the president on 26.5 percent in round one and Le Pen on 24 percent. Macron was projected to win the second round with 52 percent compared with Le Pen's 48.

Le Pen, 53, has toned down her anti-immigration rhetoric during campaigning this year and has focused instead on household spending, putting her closer than ever to power, polls indicate.

"It's the first time that I feel this confident" said Mireille Redon, 74, who has voted for the Le Pen and her father Jean Marie, who founded their movement, for more than 20 years.

"I feel like she's ready. She's learned from her mistakes and seems much more confident in herself," she said at the Perpignan rally.

- 'Turn on the turbo' -

Melenchon is also rising strongly ahead of voting and is talking up his chances of springing a surprise, helped by a confident rally Tuesday that saw him beamed by hologram into 11 French cities.

The war in Ukraine as well as strains on the health system after two years of Covid-19 are high among voter concerns, behind the biggest priority: inflation and incomes.

The slogan "Vote!" underlines the priority for Le Pen in encouraging supporters to turn out on Sunday after high abstention rates resulted in a disappointing result for her in regional elections last June.

Greens candidate Yannick Jadot, conservative Valerie Pecresse, far-right former TV pundit Eric Zemmour and flagging Socialist nominee Anne Hidalgo also had rallies Thursday.

According to the Le Monde newspaper, Hidalgo hosted a secret dinner of Socialist grandees including ex-president Francois Hollande to discuss the party's post-election future, prompting allegations she had capitulated before the poll had even taken place.

Macron was to give an interview to the Aujourd'hui newspaper in which he is expected to continue his strategy of promising steady leadership in a time of crisis, while portraying Le Pen as a dangerous extremist.

"Our initial objective is to consolidate our lead and to prevent Marine Le Pen coming out ahead in the first round," a figure in Macron's ruling party, who asked not to be named, told AFP.

Another advisor added: "We see Marine Le Pen's dynamic and we will need to put on turbo engines for round two... It's not won until the end."

- 'Scare-mongering no longer works' -

Despite entering the campaign late after being distracted by the war in Ukraine, Macron had no scheduled public events on Thursday.

"I've acquired experience of crises, international experience. I've also learned from my mistakes," he told Le Figaro newspaper in an interview published Thursday.

He acknowledged that "results on immigration were insufficient" and that new arrivals had increased at the start of his term in 2017-2019.

A recent poll found that a slim majority of French people (51 percent) found Le Pen worrying, while 39 percent considered she had the stature of a president, up from 21 percent in 2017.

The far right leader has also been boosted by the victories of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Serbia's leader Aleksandar Vucic -- seen as sharing her political ideals -- in elections last weekend.

Le Pen laughed at the idea that she could be demonised on her third run for the presidency despite Macron's intention of attacking her as economically reckless and xenophobic.

"Scare-mongering which entails saying that unless Emmanuel Macron is re-elected, it will be a crisis, the sun will be extinguished, the sea will disappear and we'll suffer an invasion of frogs, no longer works," Le Pen told RTL.