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Macron faces Le Pen again in runoff election

BY: Mary Mensah
Will it be Macron or Le Pen as next France President?
Will it be Macron or Le Pen as next France President?

The incumbent French President, Emmanuel Macron, will face the far-right nationalist, Marine Le Pen, in a winner-takes-all runoff for the French presidency.

This stage has been set after the two advanced in the first round of voting in the country’s election, to set up another head-to-head clash of their sharply opposing visions for France.

The election presents voters with two opposing visions of France: Macron offers a pro-European, liberal platform, while Le Pen's nationalist manifesto is founded on deep euroscepticism.

But while Macron won their last contest in 2017 by a landslide to become France’s youngest-ever President, the same outcome this time is far from guaranteed.

Macron, now 44, emerged ahead from last Sunday’s first round vote but the runoff is essentially a new election and the two weeks of campaigning to the Sunday, April 24 second-round vote promises to be bruising and confrontational against his 53-year-old political nemesis.

Marine Le Pen

Le Pen, more polished as she makes her third attempt to become France’s first woman President, was handsomely rewarded during the first vote at the ballot box for her years-long effort to rebrand herself as more pragmatic and less extreme.

Macron has accused Le Pen of pushing an extremist manifesto of racist, ruinous policies. Le Pen wants to roll back some rights for Muslims, banning them from wearing headscarves in public and to drastically reduce immigration from outside Europe.

During the first vote, she racked up her best-ever first-round tally of votes. With most votes counted, Macron had just over 27 per cent and Le Pen had just under 24 per cent. Hard-left leader, Jean-Luc Melenchon, was third, missing out on the two-candidate runoff, with close to 22 per cent.

Emmanuel Macron

Macron also improved on his first-round showing in 2017, despite his presidency being rocked by an almost unrelenting series of both domestic and international crises. They include Russia’s war in Ukraine that overshadowed the election and diverted his focus from the campaign. With polling suggesting that the runoff against Le Pen could be close, Macron immediately started throwing his energies into the battle.

Addressing supporters who chanted “five more years,” Macron warned that “nothing is done” and said the runoff campaign will be “decisive for our country and for Europe.”
Claiming that Le Pen would align France with “populists and xenophobes,” he said: “That’s not us.” “I want to reach out to all those who want to work for France,” he said. He vowed to
“implement the project of progress, of French and European openness and independence we have advocated for.”

Election outcome

The election’s outcome will have wide international influence as Europe struggles to contain the havoc wreaked by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Macron has strongly backed European Union sanctions on Russia while Le Pen has worried about their impact on French living standards. Macron also is a firm supporter of NATO and of close collaboration among the European Union’s 27 members.

Macron for months had looked forward to becoming France’s first president in 20 years to win a second term. But National Rally leader, Le Pen, in a late surge, tapped into the foremost issue on many French voters’ minds: soaring costs of food, gas and heating due to rising inflation and the repercussions of Western sanctions on Russia.

Reach out to voters

To win in round two, both Macron and Le Pen now need to reach out to voters who backed the 10 presidential candidates who were defeated on Sunday.

For some of the losers’ disappointed supporters, the runoff vote promises to be agonising, describing it as a choice “between the plague and cholera.”

Le Pen sought to reach out to left-wing supporters for round two by promising fixes for “a France torn apart.” She said the second round presented voters with “a fundamental choice between two opposing visions of the future: Either the division, injustice and disorder imposed by Emmanuel Macron to the benefit of the few, or the uniting of French people around social justice and protection.”

Defeated rivals

Some of her defeated rivals were so alarmed by the possibility of Le Pen beating Macron that they urged their supporters to shift their second-round votes to the incumbent. Hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon who was third with close to 22 per cent, addressing supporters who sometimes shed tears, repeatedly said: “We must not give one vote to Mrs Le Pen.”

Describing herself as “profoundly worried,” defeated conservative candidate Valerie Pecresse warned of “the chaos that would ensue” if Le Pen was elected, saying the far-right leader has never been so close to power. Pecresse said she would vote for Macron in the runoff.

Attempted rebranding

To beat Le Pen, Macron will aim to pick apart her attempted rebranding as a less dangerous political force, a makeover that has even highlighted her love of cats.

Her softer image has won over some voters but made others even more suspicious.

After more than half of the electorate voted for far-right or hard left candidates in the first round, Macron's lead in opinion polls is narrower than five years ago. One voter survey last Tuesday projected he would win with 56.5 per cent of the vote.

Moreover, Le Pen can only do better than in the 2017 debate, which she herself called a failure, while it could be hard for Macron to repeat such a knock-out performance.