French election bombshell: ‘No longer the walk in the park Macron assumed’ – two new polls

French election: Macron faces 12 contenders as race begins

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The presidential race became closer than ever this week when two separate polls showed Mr Macron, who was previously set to gain an easy victory, would win by just 53 per cent to opposition candidate Marine Le Pen’s 47 per cent in a second round presidential run-off. Although Mr Macron is still expected to be re-elected in the second round of voting on April 24, the popularity of Ms Le Pen has surprised observers.

Veteran broadcaster Andrew Neil tweeted: “French presidential election suddenly erupts into a contest as 2 polls this week show Macron’s lead over Le Pen in 2nd round presidential run-off (April 24) narrow to 53/47.

“Macron still likely to be re-elected. But no longer the walk in the park he assumed.”

The French prime minister Jean Castex has warned French voters not to fall for the “sham” opposition leader Ms Le Pen, who has consistently been second in the running ahead of the elections.

Speaking to reporters in Carpentras this week, he said: “The election of Marine Le Pen would be a catastrophe for this country.”

Ms Le Pen, the leader of the National Rally party, has moved to soften her image ahead of the election and distance herself from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the party.

Dubbed the “Devil of the Republic”, the notorious nationalist was best known for his hate speech and extreme right-wing stance on issues such as immigration.

In the run up to the elections this month, Ms Le Pen has focused on issues such as the rising cost of living and policies such as cutting fuel taxes rather than the hardline anti-immigration policies that have previously been the hallmark of her politics.

Mr Castex said: “Her programme has changed a lot, because the idea is to attract people, but basically the values that we know in the National Rally, in the Le Pen family, are the same.”

Meanwhile, Mr Macron’s campaign has been mired in more controversy this week over his administration’s use of private consultancy firms.

Mr Macron has been forced to defend his use of consultancy giant McKinsey.

The French government has been criticised for its use of private consultancy firms during Mr Macron’s years in office, with a senate report revealing the government had signed contracts worth at least €2.4 billion.

Mr Macron has denied that there is anything “murky” about the government’s relationship with McKinsey, which has been accused of not paying enough tax in France, although it has not been suggested that the firm has acted illegally.

The National Rally has branded the payments a “state scandal” while Mr Mélenchon vowed to get rid of contracts with consulting groups if he came to power.

The French president was due to hold a major election rally on Saturday to drum up last minute support for his campaign.

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A little over a week before the first round of voting on April 10, the National Rally leader is still polling in second place to Mr Macron and looks likely to qualify for the second round.

Her nearest rival, hard-left figure Jean-Luc Mélenchon, is trailing behind her by 7 per cent.

A survey published by Le Monde earlier this week said that the number of people seeing Ms Le Pen as a threat had dropped two points since January to 51 per cent.

Half of people said they would not vote for her under any circumstance, which was fewer than those who refused to back Mr Lelenchon or other far-right candidate Eric Zemmour.

Ms Le Pen was beaten by Mr Macron in the second round of the 2017 elections.

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