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The French go to the polls on Sunday for the first round of the presidential election. Centrist President Emmanuel Macron and his far-right challenger Marine Le Pen are expected to be the top two voters who then qualify for a second round in two weeks.
It would be the same couple as in 2017, when Macron easily beat Le Pen. But some analysts are now predicting it could be much closer this time.
“The majority of French people want change,” said Christian Malard, a leading French political analyst and commentator for I24 News.
Macron’s handling of COVID-19 and his Ukrainian diplomacy have not helped him overcome real unpopularity. A reform-minded technocrat, he’s been dogged by the “loof” label for years. The 2018 “yellow vest” street protests were over claims that Macron did not understand the people’s problems.
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“A lot of people feel abandoned and looked down upon by him,” Malard observed.
For his part, Le Pen “sanded” some of his “toughest points” on issues like immigration and Islam, Malard said. It targets more “kitchen table” problems such as inflation which is hitting France hard as elsewhere. It also doesn’t hurt that the French electorate has shifted to the right.
“She succeeded in softening a bad image,” according to Malard.
A late poll puts Macron at just 51% to Le Pen’s 49% in a possible second round, within the margin of error.
The French economy is the second largest in the European Union, it is the only EU member with nuclear weapons and it has one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
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What would a Le Pen presidency mean for France’s relations with the world? That would certainly not help matters with the European Union. She has long been a critic of Brussels and would align herself with other far-right leaders in Europe, such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban.
As for America’s “oldest” foreign alliance? “I think she would be tougher on the United States,” Malard said. “She’s always been on Trump’s side.”
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However, the French have a habit of voting “protest” in the first round of presidential elections, then “holding their noses” and opting for the safe choice in the second round. This would indicate another five-year term for Macron.
Judging by past meetings, this is likely an outcome President Biden would be happy with. At 44, Macron would certainly be ready for it. In just over two weeks, we will see if France is.