French presidential polls: Macron widens his lead over Le Pen, but a victory is still far away

Paris: Emmanuel Macron, the centrist, pro-Europe candidate has widened his lead on his right-wing, populist rival Marine Le Pen ahead of Sunday’s presidential vote in France, in what is essentially his election to lose.

After Wednesday night’s televised debate, in which Le Pen came off looking ill-prepared and insubstantial, Macron was widely declared as the “winner”. Macron leads the En Marche party, to Le Pen’s Front National; and both reached the second round following the first round of voting in April.

Left-leaning Liberation newspaper described on Friday her “crash” which featured “caricature” and “logorrhea”. Le Monde declared in no uncertain terms on Friday night that Macron was “in a strong position”. Earlier in the week, one headline had already said, “Neither Marine, Nor Le Pen”.

This may be Macron’s election to lose. ReutersThis may be Macron’s election to lose. Reuters
A swathe of important political leaders from different parties on the left and right – including former rivals – have already pledged their support to Macron, seeing in him the only possible, sane choice for France and Europe more broadly.

Polls have shown him winning the election, taking 60 to 63 percent of the vote. “I am quite confident regarding the results of the coming Sunday,” said Laurence Parisot, former president of a federation of French private companies and former head of IFOP, a major polling organisation, to a group of foreign journalists. “And all indicators seem to be clear about our victory. I am confident he will be voted with more than 60 percent of the vote. The French polls are rather reliable.”

Responding to a question from Firstpost on the fact that pollsters had got both Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory wrong, she said, “At polling, we are the best in the world.” French polls were indeed accurate in their predictions of the first round.

With Macron’s wide support base amongst young people and with minority groups, including Muslims and Jews expected to vote for him, given the Front National’s record of xenophobia, anti-semitism and Islamophobia, a Le Pen victory is being seen as very unlikely.

Hopes are being pinned on Macron to usher in drastic change on various fronts; bring down unemployment, usher in reforms and make the European project more meaningful. “It is clear that we are not going to put our problems behind overnight,” said Parisot. “[But] he is a specialist in the economy and has perfect command of macro and micro economic issues,” she continued. “I am also convinced that his European commitment is profound and sincere to advance Europe and the social and economic reform we badly need.”

As right wing populism has grown across Europe, as the refugee crisis shows no signs of abating and terror remains an omnipresent threat, the European project has itself come under doubt. As one of the pillars of the EU, the French election will have profound political and economic repercussions across the continent and is being watched closely throughout the region.

Macron is for remaining in the European Union, unlike his rival, Le Pen, who has said she believes France should leave the Union and the currency and return to the franc. But popular support for a French withdrawal from the EU is far less than the populist sentiment that won the Brexit referendum last year.

“People are attached to Europe and the stability,” said Jean-Dominique Giuliani, president of the Robert Schuman Foundation, a research and study centre on Europe. “They don’t want to leave, but they have greater expectations from it.”

On Thursday afternoon, former American president Barack Obama put out a video message endorsing Macron as he appealed to “people’s hopes and not their fears”. A member of Macron’s team said this could help sway undecided voters still unsure of whether he was too much of a greenhorn for the job. “But I don’t think it will change the minds of Le Pen voters,” aid the associate.

Macron, who founded his party En Marche a year ago, was previously a minister for economy in the government of incumbent Francois Holland. He has never, however, held elected office. Still, he has tried to project himself outside the right-left political binary, and has won a swathe of young supporters energised by a fresh face and the positive political disruption he represents.

“It is a blessing that he exists,” said Noelle Lenoir, a former minister for European Affairs. “This country is in great danger and Europe is as well.”

Lenoir and other ministers of foreign affairs and European affairs published a newspaper editorial in Oest France newspaper on Thursday urging voters to choose Macron by painting the differences between their two candidates; one as a forward-looking reformist, another as a nativist bigot.

“It is because the candidate of the Front National does not incarnate eternal France and jeopardises Europe that we, former ministers of foreign affairs and European affairs, solemnly ask the French to vote for Emmanuel Macron, to refuse a nationalism that wants to build a wall between France and the rest of the world, and to make the best of the greatness of France and of Europe, of France of our heart in a strong and solidary Europe!” it said.

The big guns are pulling out all the stops until the very end to ensure a Macron victory. A large gathering of leaders from across party lines, including the prime minister of the current government Manuel Valls, gathered in Paris on Friday night to re-emphasise their opposition to Le Pen and to push for a high voter turn-out. The last-minute gathering was especially to urge people not to waste their vote by abstaining or casting a blank vote.

“He must be elected by all those who believe in France,” said Pierre Moscovici, a former French minister and current European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs. “Marine Le Pen is a violent, xenophobic, protectionist candidate who would weaken France. This is why we should mobilise until the end to tell everyone it is in their interest to vote.”

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