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France

France's Macron and Le Pen to face off in crucial pre-election debate

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-05-03

Independent centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right Marine Le Pen will face off Wednesday for a last debate ahead of Sunday's final round of presidential voting. Watch the debate live on FRANCE 24 starting at 9pm Paris time.

France's two remaining presidential hopefuls go head-to-head on Wednesday in a televised debate that marks their last encounter before Sunday’s presidential run-off vote.

Opinion polls still show Macron, 39, holding a strong lead of 19 points over the National Front’s Le Pen with just four days to go before the final vote in what is widely seen as France’s most important election in decades.

Voters are choosing between Macron, a strongly pro-Europe former banker who wants to roll back state regulations on the economy while protecting workers, and Le Pen, a eurosceptic who wants to ditch the euro currency and impose sharp curbs on immigration.

The 2017 campaign for the Élysée Palace has been full of surprises, and the exchanges between the two have recently become noticeably sharper. The National Front leader has shown she is capable of catching Macron out with some clever public relations manoeuvring.

Macron finished only three points ahead of Le Pen in the April 23 first round but is expected now to receive most of the votes from the Socialists and the centre-right, whose candidates were eliminated.

>> Media watch: Abstention, anger and apathy

Macron has warned he would not pull his punches in Wednesday night’s encounter against a rival whose policies he says are dangerous for France.

“I am not going to employ invective. I am not going to use cliches or insults. I’ll use hand-to-hand fighting to demonstrate that her ideas represent false solutions,” he told BFM TV.

Le Pen, 48, portrays Macron as a high finance candidate masquerading as a liberal. “I shall be defending my ideas," she said. "He will be defending the posture that he has adopted.” 

“His programme seems to be very vague, but in reality it is a simple continuation of [Socialist President] François Hollande’s government,” she said in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday.

Rejecting the euro

Le Pen reaffirmed to Reuters that she would take France out of the euro and said she hoped the French people would have a national currency in their pockets within two years.

An Elabe poll for BFM TV and L’Express published on Tuesday showed Macron winning 59 percent of the votes in the second round versus 41 percent for Le Pen. Other pollsters have consistently shown roughly the same figures.

Commentators said Wednesday’s debate could still have an influence, particularly on potential abstainers, many of whom voted for the candidate of the hard left who came fourth in the first round. Two-thirds of Jean-Luc Mélenchon's voters have said they will either abstain or vote "blanc" (cast a blank vote) in the second round.

Macron must "convince the people who didn’t vote for him [in the first round], and who do not agree with his programme, that they will be respected” nevertheless, said one outgoing government minister, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The final face-to-face debate between rivals in a French presidential election is a "must-watch" event across the country, when candidates take the gloves off to land whatever punches they can.

Some clashes have entered into political legend.

Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, a centre-right candidate, famously bested Socialist candidate François Mitterrand in 1974 when the latter referred to “a matter of heart” when discussing an economic point.

Giscard d’Estaing hit back, saying: “You don’t have a monopoly on the heart, Monsieur Mitterrand” – a phrase that stuck and which he later said helped ensure his victory in what was an extremely tight contest.

In 2002 conservative Jacques Chirac, then the incumbent in the Élysée, refused to debate with Jean-Marie Le Pen – Marine Le Pen's father – after the National Front founder unexpectedly made it through to the second round.

Chirac said no debate was possible “in the face of intolerance and hate”, a reference to Le Pen’s xenophobic policies. Chirac defeated Le Pen senior in a landslide.

Macron has similarly called out his rival for her intolerant views. At a May Day rally on Monday, he referred to Le Pen as the “candidate of hate”.

“What is at stake isn’t only politics,” Macron said. “It is not only the state, it is not only the future of a group [or] a party ... it is the future of our society, of the French people, of our lives together.”

Staying with the theme of unity, Macron called for the support of Muslims in France. “I will never allow people to be insulted because they believe in Islam,” he said.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2017-05-03

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