French President Emmanuel Macron called on tens of thousands of enthusiastic but increasingly nervous supporters to help him win the ‘battle between progress and backwardness’ at his first election campaign rally just a week before the first round of the 2022 presidential election.
Polls show far-right rival Marine Le Pen gaining momentum and threatening what once seemed like an almost unassailable position of strength for Macron, a pro-business centrist elected in 2017.
“The mobilization is now, the battle is now!” Macron concluded a two-and-a-half-hour speech at a stadium west of Paris. “It’s a battle between progress and backwardness, a battle between patriotism and Europe, and nationalism.”
The 44-year-old drew around 30,000 people for a sporting event-inspired rally that saw Macron enter the venue to pump out music and fireworks before stepping onto a stage set up as a ring of boxing in the middle of the floor.
Macron began his speech with a long list of achievements and promises of job creation in hospitals and nursing homes, in a clear attempt to win over center-left voters who pollsters say may abstain. .
“Our lives, their lives, are worth more than profits,” he told the crowd, stealing a well-known anti-capitalist slogan.
In a bid to galvanize his supporters as well as undecided voters, Macron warned of the risk of a Brexit-like upheaval as polls showed the race between the incumbent president and Le Pen narrowing for the crucial run-off. of April 24.
“Look at what happened with Brexit and so many other elections: what seemed unlikely actually happened,” Macron told the crowd of flag-waving supporters. “Nothing is impossible,” he warned.
“The danger of extremism has reached new heights as in recent months and years hatred, alternative truths have been normalized,” he said. “We have become accustomed to seeing anti-Semitic and racist authors on television.”
Distracted by the war in Ukraine
France’s centrist president only declared his intention to run again at the last possible moment last month and has been distracted by the war in Ukraine.
Sunday’s rally was crucial for Macron to show his commitment to the electorate after diplomatic pressures from the war in Ukraine limited his canvassing at home, Ariane Bogain of Northumbria University explained in an interview with FRANCE 24. .
“So far he’s been more or less invisible and this rally is his chance to finally get into the competition and he has to do it because we’ve seen recently that his advantage in the polls has diminished. He’s still in the lead. , but he needs to be around a lot more. He’s only got a week and this rally is very, very important,” Bogain said.
Meanwhile, Le Pen has worked on a low-key grassroots campaign focused on concerns about rising prices that have weighed on household incomes.
“Despite the crises, we never gave up. Despite the crises, we kept our promises,” Macron said during the first part of a speech defending his achievements.
He listed them as bringing unemployment down to “a 15-year low”, cutting taxes to boost incomes, and cutting investment in public services.
To cries of “Macron, president!” he also detailed his program for a second term that would include benefits reform and raising the retirement age to 65.
Of those present, most expressed confidence that Macron would prevail despite the momentum over the past week that appears to favor Le Pen.
Two new polls released on Saturday suggest Macron and Le Pen would finish top of the first round on April 10, with Macron triumphing in the second round on April 24 by 53-47%.
“Of course Marine Le Pen can win,” warned Macron’s former prime minister, Édouard Philippe, in an interview with Le Parisien daily posted online Thursday.
The increasingly slim margin of victory projected for Macron has led many supporters to call on him to throw more into the campaign, with aides promising stops across the country next week.
Macron’s opponents have relentlessly attacked him over record spending on consultants such as McKinsey during his five-year tenure, which emerged in a Senate investigation last month.
Le Pen’s optimism
Le Pen, who lost to Macron in the 2017 run-off polls, has sought to moderate his image over the past half-decade in a process aided by the emergence of Eric Zemmour as an extreme candidate. law.
While Zemmour risks taking Le Pen’s votes in the first round, her more radical stances on immigration and Islam have helped her project a more dominant image.
“We feel it on the ground, there is a great dynamic, a hope that is emerging as the campaign comes to an end,” she said on a visit to eastern France on Friday.
The first round is likely to be a disaster for Les Républicains – the traditional right-wing party that was the political home of former presidents such as Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac.
Their candidate Valérie Pécresse is projected by most polls as vying with Zemmour for fourth place after failing to find campaign momentum.
His big chance to trigger his candidacy will be at a rally on Sunday in the south of Paris.
Socialist candidate, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, is struggling to move beyond the low numbers while Greens hopeful Yannick Jadot has failed to put the environment at the center of the campaign.
The left’s main hope is far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who by most polls comes in third place but believes he has a chance of making a runoff.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)