PARIS (AFP) – An increasingly bitter fight between the far-right dean Marine Le Pen and the acid-speaking media specialist Eric Zemmour shakes up the race for the presidential election in France and raises the question of immigration to the heart of the countryside.
Over the past month, Le Pen has lost the near-monopoly hold on the far-right that she had enjoyed since taking over from her father as head of the Front National party in 2011.
Expert-turned-politician Zemmour, an ultra-nationalist with multiple convictions for racist hate speech, has stolen much of her thunder since becoming a more radical challenger in the same political space.
A shock poll on Wednesday measuring voter sentiment ahead of next April’s election showed Zemmour was eclipsing Le Pen for the first time.
“Never has a candidate experienced such a change in voters’ intentions in such a short time that we have seen it with Eric Zemmour,” commented pollster Antoine Gautier of Harris Interactive of the survey results.
Some 17-18% of those polled said they would vote for Zemmour in the first round scheduled for April 10, up from 7.0% in early September, against 15-16% for Le Pen.
This score would be enough for Zemmour to qualify for the second round of the ballot where he would face President Emmanuel Macron, who won the competition by a margin of 55% to 45%.
Analysts point out that the election remains highly unpredictable and that the final list of candidates is still unknown, as Zemmour himself has yet to officially announce his candidacy.
But the poll, published in Challenges magazine, is likely to give new impetus to Zemmour’s anti-immigration and anti-Islam campaign which has been bolstered by extensive media coverage and interviews over the past month.
“The polls are encouraging,” Zemmour told CNews on Wednesday. “It’s not in my best interest to declare my candidacy now. You have to choose the right time.
Zemmour, who is of Algerian Jewish descent, sees France sliding into civil war and he is an open supporter of the “great replacement” theory which postulates that white Europeans are being replaced by immigrants.
In his bestsellers and regular television appearances, the 63-year-old presents the future as a battle between the Christian traditions of France and the culture of the newcomer Muslims whom he has called “colonizers”.
Speaking to reporters on Monday night after a sold-out debate in a conference hall in Paris, Zemmour attributed his popularity to his ability to connect with the concerns of ordinary people.
“I think that many French people were waiting for this message, that we speak to them about France, of what they feel: that the country is in danger of death, subverted by an unprecedented migratory wave, that whole sections of the country became. enclaves of foreign Islamists, ”he said.
One of his political suggestions is to force parents to give their children French-sounding first names.
Philippe Corcuff, a French political scientist on the left who recently published a book on the far right, considers Zemmour to be more dangerous than Marine Le Pen and a sort of “intellectual Trump”.
“If he gets to the second round, he has a better chance (than Le Pen) against Emmanuel Macron,” Corcuff said, explaining how Zemmour was seen as more mainstream than Le Pen thanks to his long career as a journalist for Le Figaro and his TV career.
“He is more on the far right than Marine Le Pen, but he is considered more respectable on the right,” said Corcuff of the Institute of Political Studies in Lyon.
Socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo said her rise to “disgusted her to the point of nausea”.
Zemmour’s push left Le Pen struggling to respond.
Over the years, she has sought to distance herself from her burning father and reposition the party – since renamed the National Rally (RN) – as a traditional nationalist group.
She initially sought to ignore Zemmour’s challenge and privately urged him to step down.
But his popular campaign this month was entirely overshadowed by the expert’s media blitz who saw him feature on France’s biggest TV and radio shows on a daily basis.
“Apart from a form of brutality, what does he offer in terms of solutions? Le Pen said of Zemmour in a weekend interview that signaled a more aggressive stance.
Other allies of Le Pen have attacked Zemmour for his views on women, whom he sees as not having the same strength and leadership abilities as men.