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This time, almost five years ago, Caroline Janvier was part of the army of newly elected Emmanuel Macron’s future parliamentarians.

These “novices”, as La République En Marche called them – the pop-up party created to bring Macron to power – were so green that they were sent on a one-day crash course in how to run a campaign, organize and motivate a team and deal with the press.

January, 40, a graduate of the elite Sciences Po institute who previously worked with an association for the disabled, got her seat in Loiret, south of Paris, when she was a political unknown.

On Saturday, she traveled to see Macron, who is seeking re-election, hold his first and final campaign meeting at Europe’s largest concert hall in the Parisian district of La Défense – an event her team has promised would be a Super Bowl-style occasion.

About 30,000 supporters turned out along with 600 accredited journalists to hear Macron present his program, the most contested measure of which promises a new attempt to raise the retirement age in France to 65.

He spoke for two hours, urging voters to turn themselves in and not believe “anyone who says the election is already decided”. “Do you want a stronger France? So join us! he concluded.

“I am very happy to finally see our candidate. We’ve been campaigning and distributing leaflets for several weeks and we haven’t had any meetings and rallies with him because he’s been busy with Ukraine, so it will be a good time for us,” Jan said. “We can’t wait to know his state of mind and to hear him outline his project for the next five years.

Emmanuel Macron’s novices gather to hear how their elusive leader plans to win a second term |  French presidential election 2022
Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen speaks at a rally in Stiring-Wendel, northeastern France. Photography: Jean-Christophe Verhaegen/AFP/Getty Images

Macron was in Pau and Anjou last month and traveled to Dijon last week, but to the dismay of MPs like Janvier and his supporters his campaign appearances have been rare. The president’s mind turned to other matters, including attempts to mediate between Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, which took his eyes off the presidential ball.

After an initial surge in support for Macron following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the domestic consequences of the conflict – particularly soaring fuel and food prices – are beginning to be felt and polls suggest Marine The far-right Pen is getting closer.

An Elabe poll published on Saturday showed Macron at 28.5% and Le Pen of the Rassemblement National at 22%, with the radical left Jean-Luc Mélenchon of La France Insoumise at 15%, followed by the far right Éric Zemmour and the dominant right Valérie Pécresse of the Republicans.

However, fears that voters who believe the outcome is inevitable are staying home or using their first-round ballot as a ‘protest vote’, or to support one of the many disadvantaged candidates, is fueling growing unease that anything could happen.

Jérôme Fourquet of the Ifop polling institute said: “Polls are not predictions, voting intentions are just that. This is what people say they intend to vote, but will they actually? We try to take precautions with our methodology, but until the last minute people can change their minds.

“In a presidential election, the abstention rate is usually relatively low… but if we are in a situation where there is a high abstention, then we have a real problem. It’s like a photo; it gets fuzzy and complicated.

Janvier decided to put his job on hold in 2016 to join Macron and En Marche!, the party later named La République en Marche (LREM).

Her husband, an agricultural adviser, agreed to look after their three children, then aged seven, five and two, a temporary arrangement that has become permanent since his election to parliament.

His victory as a political novice was all the more remarkable as his Loiret constituency, which includes the historic city of Orléans, saw Le Pen narrowly beat Macron in the first round of the 2017 presidential election with 23.53% of the vote. vote (losing to the second, when Macron voted 63.16%). A second Loiret MP, doctor Stephanie Rist, was also among some 150 “new” Macrons from civil society to enter parliament in the legislative elections that year.

“It’s the first time I’ve gotten involved in politics and it’s because I got involved in Emmanuel Macron’s project,” Janvier said in 2017. “Yes, people are wondering if we would be enough strong to challenge the government, push through their plans and make their demands heard, because we don’t have any experience, but we really want to shake things up, we may not have parliamentary skills yet, but we are lively and energetic.

Emmanuel Macron’s novices gather to hear how their elusive leader plans to win a second term |  French presidential election 2022
Caroline Janvier says that Macron’s supporters are “eager to know his state of mind and to hear him outline his project for the next five years”. Photography: Robin Troutot

Today, she is even more passionate about politics and plans to stand for re-election in June. “I am very proud of what we have managed to do individually and collectively over five difficult years with the Vests yellow protests, the health situation and now the war in Ukraine.
“We made mistakes and maybe we new MPs were a bit arrogant at first thinking we were going to turn the political life of the country upside down, but even though we weren’t very good at style, we were basically good.
“Personally, I kept my political commitment to my constituents and did what I said I would do. Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes not, but I tried.

Janvier admitted that LREM had struggled to take root in the countryside, where the mainstream right-wing Les Républicains and the Parti Socialiste, which were cannibalized nationally by Macron in 2017, remained relatively strong in local elections.

Political analysts have suggested that LREM will last as long as Macron – who is constitutionally barred from running for a third consecutive term – does.
“That’s the whole political issue for us, to make LREM or whatever it is called by the end of its second term a real political force with a clear doctrine and local support,” added Janvier.

“It is true that the situation is less solid for us locally than nationally, but I believe that it takes at least 15 years to set up a party and if neither the Republicans nor the Socialist Party are in the second round of this election, I think we’ll see a different strategy from their supporters and perhaps more of a willingness to build alliances.

Fourquet said the most difficult thing for Macron was not his re-election, but what would happen afterwards.
“If in the first round Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen have 50% of the vote, that means that 50% of the country does not support them,” said Fourquet.
“And if he is then elected [in the second round] faced with a Le Pen who is doing well, he will have succeeded in crushing the right, but has inherited a fractured country which will be difficult to manage. Remember that a liter of petrol costs more than €2, whereas it was €1.40 when we had the Vests yellow crisis.

“The last time Macron tried to reform pensions, we had 55 days of non-stop strikes. There are potentially potent tensions in the country.

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