Marine Le Pen told thousands of feverish supporters at her final rally in southern France on Thursday they could only “take back control” by going out and voting on Sunday as polls showed an increasingly close battle with Emmanuel Macron.
The National Rally candidate whom Emmanuel Macron easily beat with two-thirds of the vote five years ago, has surged in the polls in recent weeks by focusing her campaign on the growing cost-of-living crisis.
One poll on Thursday put Ms Le Pen in the lead against Mr Macron for the first time in a decisive second second round of voting.Ms Le Pen has been boosted by the victories of fellow nationalists in Hungary and Serbia in elections last weekend, and on Thursday she said she would ban the Muslim headscarf in all public spaces.Speaking from the nationalist stronghold of Perpignan, whose mayor is her ally and ex-boyfriend, Louis Aliot, the 53-year-old told a crowd of 3,000 who chanted “we’re going to win” that “it all depends on you”.“Those who may have lost the civil reflex (of voting) through anger, disgust, illusion or apathy…I beg you to go and vote.”“In the presidential election, one doesn’t abstain. Take back control. If the people vote, the people win.”
An Opinionway poll placed Mr Macron on 26 per cent in round one, with Ms Le Pen on 22 per cent and her nearest challenger Leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon gaining ground on 17 per cent.
Mr Macron would go on to win the runoff with 53 per cent of the vote but accounting for the “margin of error” it could go either way, say her team.One lone Atlas Politico survey on Thursday night even saw Ms Le Pen actually clinching the election by a half-percentage point – though this has not been repeated elsewhere.
Abstention is Le Pen’s biggest concern
However, the party’s biggest fear is abstention as polls suggest her younger, less-educated and less well off supporters are more likely to stay away than those behind Mr Macron.Presidential elections have traditionally enjoyed high voter turnout but abstention has been rising and the Ipsos pollster forecast that as much as a third of voters may sit out Sunday’s election. That would set a record and exceed the number voting for any candidate.Mr Macron, likewise, has warned of a Brexit-style upset unless his supporters hit the polling booths.Ms Le Pen’s concerted effort to soften her image and place her usual bugbears of Europe and immigration on the back burner appears to be finally paying off.But on Thursday, she also hit those old buttons, while warning the election was a decisive clash between “nationalists and globalists”.She received huge cheers for promising to inscribe “national preference” for French in housing and employment in the French constitution, which received chants of: “We’re in our own home.”Earlier, the anti-immigration politician vowed to ban the Muslim headscarf in all public spaces saying it would be enforced by police in the same way as seatbelt-wearing in cars.
Ms Le Pen has avoided big meetings until now, preferring to tour France in low-key market visits in friendly territory to chat about rising living costs, notably energy and fuel.On that theme, she told the crowd: “If Emmanuel Macron had enriched the country, sorry, then we wouldn’t be talking about purchasing power.”His every mention was met with copious booing.She attacked him over the “McKinsey scandal” – revelations that his government had doubled the amount spent on consultants, mainly US giant McKinsey, which has paid almost no tax in France. It denies any wrongdoing.Prosecutors this week launched a preliminary investigation into possible tax avoidance.She suggested such outsourcing could herald the “privatisation of the civil service”.
Female president ‘sign of democratic maturity’
Ms Le Pen said it was about time France elected a female president, which would be “a sign of democratic maturity”.“What if we tried something else?”The Macron camp argues she remains far-Right, still poses a threat to French democracy and would lead the French economy to ruin.”Scare-mongering which entails saying that unless Emmanuel Macron is re-elected, it will be a crisis, the sun will be extinguished, the sea will disappear and we’ll suffer an invasion of frogs, no longer works,” she told RTL earlier.
Supporters are convinced she can go all the way.Nathan Leca, 23, a history student in Perpignan, said: “I supported her in 2017 and was disappointed in her debate last time but am backing her again because she has shown resilience and shrugged off the Zemmour threat with a calmer image.“She has made the right choices in this campaign focusing on purchasing power.”“Last time, she underestimated Macron but this time she’s far better prepared. She embodies French aspirations to gain more security and prosperity for its citizens and a better standing internationally.”Claire Corcinos, 58, a saleswoman, said: “I have only voted once in my life and this time I’m convinced she will help improve our future which is not looking great. She is more human, softer. She has nothing to prove regarding security and immigration and is now pushing purchasing power.”“I don’t like ‘Macronists’, it’s all about banks, business and Europe. He doesn’t think about the average person like us and yet we represent the vast majority. Marine does. I don’t think she’s going to win, I know it.”
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