French election: Macron faces 12 contenders as race begins
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Incumbent Mr Macron has consistently been the favourite to win the French presidential election, which takes place in two rounds on April 10 and 24. Mr Macron beat Ms Le Pen in the 2017 elections in a resounding victory, after days of bitter public battling and debates descending into name-calling.
Becoming France’s youngest-ever president aged 39, he clinched the presidency in the second-round run-off over Ms Le Pen, with 66 percent of the vote.
Mr Macron had maintained a comfortable margin in the polls ahead of Ms Le Pen this year, but now polls suggest the National Rally party leader is catching up with the president.
A poll by the Ifop-Fiducial published this week put Mr Macron at 53 percent of the vote, with Ms Le Pen just behind at 47 percent.
A separate Ipsos Sopra-Steria poll, published on Tuesday, placed Mr Macron’s share of the vote at 56 percent, versus Ms Le Pen at 44 percent.
However, both indicated Ms Le Pen’s popularity had shot up by three points in just a week.
Macron advisers dismissed Ms Le Pen’s rise, saying the change was down to public opinion towards the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The president’s popularity spiked with public approval for how Mr Macron handled the breakout of the war.
One anonymous aide told AFP: “We knew he wasn’t going to stay so high.”
Ms Le Pen took a rather different stance, telling the French newspaper Le Parisien: “I have never been so close to victory.”
Mr Macron has spent the week injecting life into his election campaign, after holding off on actively canvassing for votes.
With his energy diverted by the Ukraine crisis, he is seen as having ignored a number of the pressing domestic social issues which could sway voters another way.
Ms Le Pen has zeroed in on the rising cost of living, seeing her gaining ground.
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With just a week and a half remaining until the first-round election, Mr Macron addressed a Paris rally to explain his absence.
He joked: “I adore rallies but let’s be clear-headed – I can’t do many!”
Addressing his pre-occupation with Ukraine, he added: “No one would understand if I wasn’t there to protect the French.”
Mr Macron, a former investment banker, has previously been branded a “president of the rich”. This is a label he is looking to shed as voters’ pockets are pinched and fuel prices rise.
Stewart Chau, from the pollster Viavoice, said Mr Macron’s current polling was still above the score he secured in the previous election’s first round.
He told the Guardian: “The international crisis has allowed him to rest on his presidential stature and legitimacy on the world stage.
“But, in the tight timeframe of the campaign, he still has to create an effect of ‘desirability’ among voters.
“He has to both say ‘I’m the right person for the current international context’ and at the same time elicit some positive emotion from voters, with proposals seen as improving people’s lives.
“That double situation is not easy.”
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