Macron Faces Le Pen For The French President Fascinating Towards Extremism

PARIS – President Emmanuel Macron will face Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader of France, in the run-up of the presidential elections in France.

With 92% of votes counted on Sunday, Mr Macron, a centrist, is leading with about 27.4% of the vote compared with Ms Le Pen’s 24.3%. Ms. Le Pen benefited from a belated rise reflecting widespread discontent over rising prices, security and immigration.

With the war raging in Ukraine and the unity of the West likely to be tested as hostilities continue, Ms. Le Pen’s strong track record demonstrates the enduring appeal of nationalist movements. and xenophobia in Europe. The far-right parties of the right and the left accounted for about 51% of the vote, a clear indication of the extent of French anger and frustration.

A more anti-NATO and pro-Russian France in the event of Le Pen’s eventual victory would cause deep concern in allied capitals and could disrupt a unified transatlantic response to the conflict. Russian invasion of Ukraine.

But Mr Macron, after a lackluster election campaign, will go into the second round as the favorite, with slightly better results than the latest opinion polls suggested. Some have pointed out that he leads Ms Le Pen by just two points.

The principled French rejection of Ms. Le Pen’s brand of anti-immigrant nationalism has become acute as illiberal politics has spread in both Europe and the United States. She has succeeded in softening her packaging, if not for her fervent belief that the French must be more privileged than foreigners and that the curtain must be drawn back to France as a “region”. immigrant land”.

Ms. Le Pen’s relationship with Russian President Putin is close, although she has tried to bring them down in recent weeks. This month, she briefly congratulated Viktor Orban, Hungary’s nationalist and anti-immigrant leader, on his fourth consecutive victory in parliamentary elections.

“I will restore order to France in five years,” Le Pen announced to cheering supporters, calling on all French people to join her in what she called “the choice of choice of civilization”, in which “legitimate superiority of the French language and culture “will be guaranteed and full” sovereignty restored in all regions. ”

The choice the French people faced on April 24 was between “division, injustice and disorder” on the one hand, and on the other, “the rallying of the French around justice and social protection.” association,” she said.

“I want a France in a strong Europe that maintains alliances with the major democracies to defend itself, not a France, outside of Europe,” Macron told his flag-waving supporters. Europe, will be its only ally populist and xenophobic. International. That’s not us.”

He added: “Don’t fool yourself, nothing has been decided, and the debate we will have over the next 15 days is decisive for our country and for Europe. .”

Last week, in an interview in the daily newspaper Le Parisien, Mr. Macron called Ms Le Pen “a racist” of “great atrocities”. Le Pen hit back, calling the president’s remarks “outrageous and aggressive.” She called the preference of the French over foreigners “the only moral, legal and acceptable policy”.

The gloves will be removed as they confront each other about the future of France, at a time when England’s exit from the European Union and ends Angela Merkel’s long term as chancellor in Germany placed a special place in the French leadership.

Mr Macron wants to turn Europe into a credible military power with “strategic autonomy”. Ms Le Pen, whose party has received funding from a Russian bank and more recently a Hungarian bank, has other priorities.

The flow on April 24 will repeat the last election, in 2017when Mr. Macron, then a political newcomer intent on breaking the old divide between the left and the right, left Ms Le Pen in trouble with 66.9% of the vote to 33.1. % of her.

The final result this time will almost certainly be a lot closer than it was five years ago. Polls taken before Sunday’s vote showed Mr Macron winning only between 52% and 48% over Ms Le Pen in the second round. That could change in the next two weeks, when the candidates will debate for the first time in the campaign.

Reflecting France’s drift to the right in recent years, no left-center candidate has qualified to cross the flow. The Socialist Party, long a mainstay of post-war French politics, has collapsed, gone Jean-Luc MélenchonThe anti-NATO extreme left candidate with the movement France Unbowed, took third place with about 21%.

Ms. Le Pen, the leader of the National Elections, formerly the National Front, was helped by the candidacy of Eric Zemmour, a scathing xenophobic television pundit turned politician, who became a front-runner for her anti-immigrant provocation, which made her seem mainstream and innocuous. than. In the end, Mr. Zemmour’s campaign went up in smoke, and he got about 7 percent of the vote.

Mr Zemmour immediately urged supporters to support Ms Le Pen in the second round. Mr. Zemmour stated: “There is one person who opposes Ms. Le Pen who has allowed 2 million people to immigrate to France.

The threatening scenario for Mr Macron is that Mr Zemmour’s vote will go to Ms Le Pen, and she will be further bolstered by the broad left feeling betrayed or just substantively hostile towards president, as well as by some center-right voters where immigration is at the core.

More than half of French people – supporters of Ms Le Pen, Mr Zemmour and Mr Mélenchon – now appear to support parties that are anti-NATO, anti-American and hostile to the European Union. By contrast, broad centers – Mr Macron’s La République en Marche party, the Socialists, the centre-right Republicans and the Greens – make up about 40% of the total.

These are numbers that show the level of anxiety in France, and perhaps also the level of distrust in its democracy. They will comfort Ms Le Pen rather than Mr Macron, even if Mr Mélenchon says his supporters should not give “one vote” to Ms Le Pen.

However, he refused to endorse Mr. Macron.

At Le Pen’s headquarters, Frederic Sarmiento, an activist, said, “She would benefit from a large vote transfer,” pointing to Zemmour’s supporters, but also some. on the left, those who follow the polls, will support her. Le Pen in the second round.

“I’m very nervous, it’s going to be a very close current,” said Nicolas Tenzer, an author who teaches political science at Sciences Po. “More people on the left will abstain than vote for Macron.”

Mr Macron won instant support over the defeated Socialists, Communists, Greens and centre-right candidates, but between them accounted for no more than 15% of the vote in the first round. He could also benefit from a belated surge in Republican support in a country with a bitter wartime experience of far-right regimes.

Ultimately, Sunday’s election pitted Mr Macron against the far right and far left across the political spectrum, a sign that he has effectively dismantled the old political order. Now, essentially built around one personality – the restless president – French democracy does not appear to have reached any sustainable alternative structures.

If the two sprint qualifiers were the same as in 2017, they were altered by circumstances. Where Mr. Macron represented hope for reform in 2017, he is now seen by many as a right-wing leader with a highly personalized top-down style of government. Light is out of him.

As for Islam in France, on immigration controls and police power, Mr. Macron has taken a hard line, judging that the election will be won or lost in his right.

Addressing supporters after Sunday’s vote, he said he wanted a France “resolutely opposed to Islamic separatism” – the term he uses to describe conservative Muslims. conservatives or extremists that reject French values ​​such as gender equality – but also a France that allows all believers to practice their faith.

His shift to the right has come at a cost. The centre-left, once his core of support, feels betrayed. To what extent the left will vote for him in the second round will be the main source of concern, as has been reflected in Mr Macron’s recent sudden catch to mean “fraternity”, “union”, connection” and equality of opportunity.

During the campaign, Mr. Macron appeared disengaged, attracting countless phone calls for Putin that proved ineffective.

The comfortable lead in the polls has disappeared in recent weeks as discontent has grown over the president’s split. He has struggled during his five-year presidency to overcome his aloof image, learn to reach out to more people, only to have a clear relapse in the past few weeks.

However, Mr. Macron steer the country through the protracted coronavirus crisisbring unemployment to a decade low and enhanced economic growth. In doing so, he convinced many French that he had what it took to lead and represent France with great dignity on the world stage.

Ms. Le Pen, who will be France’s first female president, also has a different view. Now in her third attempt to become president – Jacques Chirac won in 2002 after two defeats – she bowed to reason (and popular opinion) on two important fronts: reneged on its previous oath to take France out of the European Union and the eurozone. However, many of her proposals – such as barring EU citizens from receiving some of the same social benefits as French citizens – would violate basic European treaties.

The leader of the National Rally, formerly the National Front, has toned down her language to appear more “presidential”. She laughs a lot, opens up about her personal struggles, and she gives the impression that she is closer to the everyday concerns of the French people, especially about the skyrocketing gas prices and inflation. broadcast.

But many things have not changed. Her agenda includes plans to hold a referendum that will lead to a change in the Constitution, banning any policy that results in “the installation on the national territory of a large number of foreigners.” out to the point where it would change the composition and identity of the French people.”

She also wants to ban Muslim women from wearing the hijab and fines if they do.

Sunday’s abstention, between 26 and 28 percent, was several points higher than in the previous election. Not since 2002, the number has been this high.

This seems to reflect political frustration as an agent of change, the effects of the war in Ukraine, and a loss of confidence in democracy. That is part of the anger that has driven so many French people to political extremes.

Aurelien Breeden Reporting contributions from Paris.

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