In the final round of the French presidential election 20 years ago, Jean-Marie Le Pen of the far-right National Front was surpassed by Jacques Chirac, the centre-right incumbent, by 82% to 18 as voters rebelled against the prospect of an extremist in the Elysée Palace.
A similar “republican front” of anti-radical political parties and citizens emerged five years ago when Le Pen’s daughter Marine faced central political newcomer Emmanuel Macron, who struck beat her from 66% to 34 to win the presidency.
This year – with the two going to rematch on April 24th first round of voting on Sunday – the latest polls give Macron a slight edge. But they also showed that the republican front was collapsing and that Marine Le Pen could finally achieve a victory that would have enormous consequences at home and abroad.
She and her supporters feel they have the momentum they need to win after her spike in the past month. Jean-Paul Garraud, a judge will be appointed justice minister if she wins. “There has been a psychological breakthrough in the public mind that she is qualified and qualified to be president.”
But Macron has in the past proved to be a formidable political campaigner – when the road gets tough, “I fight”, he said recently – and he has arranged trips to the north. and eastern France on Monday and Tuesday trying to hold out at the Elysée. for a second term.
If Macron wins two weeks from now, he has pledged to continue economic reforms and uphold the policy of liberal internationalism that puts France at the center of both the EU and the current Western alliance. is confronting Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. His keywords are “humanism”, “openness” and “Enlightenment”.
“This contest isn’t over yet and the debate we’ll have over the next two weeks will be decisive for our country,” he said Sunday night.
If Le Pen wins, she has vowed to change French society by restricting immigration and the rights of foreigners, banning Muslims from wearing the veil in public, and protecting industry. of France, rejecting EU laws and rules that she considers contrary to French interests, and withdrawing from Nato’s military command structure. She talks about “protection” – from high prices and crime – and “law and order”.
Events in France and abroad in recent years have energized Le Pen as she and her increasingly optimistic campaign team continue their bid for a third presidential run.
At home, the traditional left- and right-wing structure of France’s post-war democracy – which was called into question by Macron’s innovative and successful 2017 “non-leftist” campaign – seems to was buried by Sunday’s vote.
Instead it is a competition between liberals and internationalists like Macron on the one hand and populists and nationalists like Le Pen on the other.
Socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, won just 2% of the vote on Sunday, while Valérie Pécresse of the conservative Les Républicains party risks falling below the 5% threshold needed to reclaim spending. election fees from the state.
Closest to Macron and Le Pen is not a conventional candidate but far-left nationalist, anti-Nato Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who seems to have come close to defeating Le Pen in the second round as last time. Some of his supporters have told pollsters they will vote for Le Pen on the opposite end of the political spectrum, although on Sunday night he urged them not to support the far right. .
Abroad, populists and nationalists like Le Pen have been ahead of liberal democrats for a decade or more, a trend exemplified by the Brexit vote. 2016 election of Donald Trump later that year and by the rise of authoritarian leaders such as Vladimir Putin in Russia and Viktor Orban in Hungary.
Le Pen supporters say that by relying on Macron’s arrogant reputation, she was able to attract not only 7% of voters, who in the first round chose Eric Zemmour – a far-right candidate, anti-immigrant who overshadowed Le Pen last year – but also many from the far left and from the right wing of Pécresse’s LR.
“There are a lot of people in France who want to get rid of Macron,” said Gilles Lebreton, a member of the pro-Le Pen European Parliament. “We are not trying to create a ‘anyone but Macron’ movement – he did it on his own with little phrases that attack and divide people and his pro-elite program. “
Polls from both Ipsos and Elabe show that Mélenchon supporters split their votes in three ways between abstaining, supporting Macron and voting for Le Pen in the second round.
Until Sunday, Le Pen stole the show by crossing into France and listening to villagers’ complaints about the high cost of living, while Macron arrived very late to campaign after being distracted. by international diplomacy over the war in Ukraine.
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But Macron won about 28% of the vote – more than in the first round in 2017. Now that the first phase has ended, all his flames will be on Le Pen, especially the She lacks experience as head of state. In times of crisis, what he saw was the inconsistency of her economic policies and, above all, her connection to Putin: Le Pen had been financed by bank loans before first from Russia and now from Hungary, while her campaign materials originally included a photo of her proudly shaking Putin’s hand at the Kremlin.
Macron supporter Guillain Gilliot, 22, a political science student in Paris who has helped with the president’s campaign, says it is necessary to explain who Le Pen really is beyond public image. Her is a cat lover and woman of the people. “She seems softer now but her program is a hard line,” he said, “and we have to explain that she is still an ally of Putin.”
Georgina Wright, head of the Institut Montaigne, said of Macron’s speech after the first-round results that “for the first time it felt like Macron was campaigning not as president but as a president.” candidate seeking a second term. But the race will be intense – and he will need to convince people to come out and vote on April 24.”