Macron vs Le Pen fight for the presidency


PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron may be ahead in the presidential race so far, but he warned his supporters that “nothing is done” and that his second-round battle with the challenger of extreme right Marine Le Pen will be a tough fight. And she’s ready for it.

The duel begins on Monday, after the two came out on top in Sunday’s first-round vote. Centrist Macron is heading to an economically depressed region of northern France where a majority of voters have chosen Le Pen, close to his electoral stronghold of Hénin-Beaumont.

Meanwhile, leaders of Le Pen’s National Rally will meet on Monday to plan the strategy for the second round, scheduled for April 24. Le Pen summed up the standoff by saying that voters face “a fundamental choice between two opposing visions of the future.”

Macron has already faced Le Pen in the second round of the presidential election five years ago. But all the opinion polls show that the leader of the National Rally is much closer this time to a possible victory.

Macron said he wanted to convince those who voted for the “extremes” or stayed at home that “our project responds much more seriously to their fears and to the challenges of the times”.

In her third bid to become France’s first female president, Le Pen was rewarded on Sunday for her years-long effort to rebrand herself as more pragmatic and less extreme. Macron accused Le Pen of promoting a dangerous manifesto of racist and ruinous policies. Le Pen wants to roll back certain rights of Muslims, by prohibiting them from wearing the headscarf in public, and drastically reduce immigration from outside Europe.

In his Sunday evening speech, Macron said his plan would protect all religions and the freedom “to believe or not”.

Rising food and energy prices are at the heart of Le Pen’s campaign, but Macron’s team say they would not have the financial means to deliver on their promises.

“We are now focusing on the project and the values,” said Senator François Patriat, a member of Macron’s party. The strategy is to be “proud” of what has been done in the past five years, showing “a little humility” and “above all a certain fighting spirit”, he said.

Macron will use the next few days to “go out into the field”, he said. Visits to several French regions are scheduled this week. Before Sunday’s first round, Macron was absent from most of the election campaign as he spent most of his time focusing on diplomatic efforts regarding the war in Ukraine.

Le Pen’s camp, meanwhile, hopes to capitalize on anger at Macron over policies seen as favoring the wealthy.

“Now everything is possible,” Aurelien Lopez Liguori, a city councilor for Le Pen’s party in the southern city of Sète, told the AP. Compared to 2017, “now Macron has a record, a bad record”. He credited Le Pen’s closeness to the French during the campaign with closing the gap with Macron.

French European Affairs Minister Clément Beaune told the AP “we shouldn’t think it’s done”.

The battle will go “project against project”, he said.

Noting Macron’s “pro-European” project, Beaune recalled that five years ago “Le Pen proposed – we must not forget – to leave the euro (zone), to break up Europe then Brexit and Frexit were all the rage”.

Ms Le Pen has dropped earlier threats to pull France out of the EU and drop the euro if elected, but some of her proposals, including the establishment of national border controls, run counter to EU rules.

Macron and Le Pen are due to debate on national television next week.

With most of the first-round votes from 12 candidates counted Monday morning, Macron had over 27% and Le Pen had 23%. Far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon is third with almost 22%.

Macron improved his performance in the first round in 2017, although his presidency was rocked by the protest movement of yellow vests against perceived economic injustice, the pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The outcome of the election will have wide international influence as Europe struggles to contain the ravages of this war. Macron strongly supported European Union sanctions against Russia while Le Pen worried about their impact on French living standards. Macron is also a strong supporter of NATO and close collaboration between the 27 EU members.


John Leicester and Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed.


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