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With Le Pen breathing Macron’s neck, is France about to have its Brexit?

And just like that, everyone’s talking about France and whether it’s about to have its ‘Brexit/Trump moment’.

The first round of the French presidential election takes place on Sunday, and what could have been just a formality of national interest suddenly generates a much bigger buzz. That’s thanks to a series of polls suggesting Marine Le Pen, the far-right’s standard-bearer for more than a decade, could score a surprise victory over incumbent President Emmanuel Macron.

With the help of the political correspondent of HuffPost France Romain HerrerosHere’s everything you need to know about the vote to determine who leads one of Europe’s greatest economic and military powers as a war rages on the continent.

The bottom line: what’s going on?

The French presidential election will be held in two rounds on April 10 and 24. For weeks, polls have consistently indicated Macron thebefore the first round the Pen, with both advancing to a second round. That would mean a replay of the 2017 election which Macron won comfortably (66% to 34%). But this time it should be much closer. According to some polls, the The pen has closes the gap enough for victory to be within the margin of error.

There are 12 official candidates. Apart from Macron and Le Pen, the names of note in an election where radical positions set the tone are far-right writer-turned-candidate Éric Zemmour and veteran leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon. While either is unlikely to make the final cut, their voters’ second choice could be crucial in a tight second round.

A Le Pen victory would send shockwaves around the world, especially given the West’s united front against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Having someone who has shown pro-Vladamir Putin sympathies to handle the fallout would be less than ideal. And make no mistake about France’s importance: Brexit has worsened its status as the European Union’s main military power and, with the departure of Angela Merkel as German Chancellor, Macron has taken on a more prominent role.the in Europe.

Marine Le Pen and the redesign of the image

Aged 53, the leader of the National Rally, a movement long known for its anti-Semitism, Nazi nostalgia and anti-immigrant bigotry, is running for the third time. The name “Le Pen” is notorious in France thanks to his father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the incendiary leader of this same party when it was the National Front.

Since his defeat in 2017, the Pen worked to soften his image – highlighting his love of cats, among other things – and changed the name of the party. She tried hard to come across as a potential therather than a radical anti-system opponent. His campaign has focused on cost-of-living concerns – amid huge energy price hikes and mounting inflation – and the candidacy of Zemmour, who is even further to the right than the Penalso helped his appear more palatabthe to voters.

Herreros says many thought another far-right candidate would split their vote, undermining Le Pen’s chance. “But, in fact, Zemmour was very tough, very radical. So Le Pen seemed softer. People are less afraid of her than of Zemmour. When we look at the polls, we see it.

Below is a poll aggregator showing how Macron’s lead over Le Pen has shrunk in recent days. See here for the latest update.

This partly explains why the context isn’t quite like 2016. “The last election was just a year after Brexit and the election of Trump, so we were in a populist moment,” Herreros tells about Macron’s rise to power in 2017. “Now we’ve seen that Brexit was not what the British people expected, and we’ve seen (Brazil’s populist president) that Bolsonaro is a nightmare in Brazil. But Le Pen isn’t playing the populist role – she says she doesn’t want to leave the euro this time, that she’s not as extreme as Zimmour. ‘Trust me, I’m not bad’.”

But make no mistake, the essence of his party’s program has not changed. “She’s still far-right,” says Herreros. “She offers the same thing on immigration as Zemmour, but with different words. It’s just a different package.

It would end a number of social aids for foreigners, stop family reunification, give preference to the French for jobs and social housing, ban the hijab in public spaces and expel unemployed foreigners from France.

Éric Zemmour, not quite the French Trump

The first obsession among the talkative classes was the rise of Zemmour and its nascent Reconquest! Party. A TV pundit who presents himself as a Donald Trump figure and guardian of Old France, he has proposed a plane-equipped ‘Remigration’ ministry to speed up deportations of what he says are unwanted migrants .

Zemmour pushes the white nationalist conspiracy theory known as the “great replacement,” which argues that France and Western countries are being overrun by immigrants and other people of color, including Muslims.

Reflecting Le Pen’s superficial changes, a group of his officials and supporters left for Zemmour. The only criticism Le Pen spared was his niece, Marion Marechal, a former politician who returned to the front to help Zemmour.

Perhaps what worries most is that the two far-right candidates together garner more support than the centrist president. In a scenario where Le Pen inherits about 80% of Zemmour’s second-round vote — a not unreasonable prospect, analysts say — that puts her “close to victory,” Herreros says.

Macron and gone?

For Macron, Le Pen is the candidate to beat, and his camp is openly worried about an “accidental” victory for Le Pen – perhaps if moderate voters don’t show up at the polls.

The 44-year-old former investment banker, elected in 2017 with little political experience with his centrist La République en Marche, has seen his pristine reputation tarnished by the yellow vest protests and the imposition of coronavirus restrictions.

His election campaign was disrupted by the war in Ukraine, with Macron delaying his speech in the country due to France’s central role in the West’s response. While absence from the campaign trail has its own set of problems, wartime leadership has allowed him to be showcased in the face of the big issues facing the world (see the unusual photos of him working nights and weekends). ends at the Elysée, looking tired and unshaven, in jeans and a hoodie). It may have helped with an initial boost in the polls, but it seems to have waned.

With Le Pen breathing Macron’s neck, is France about to have its Brexit?
Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen are due to meet in the second round of the second consecutive presidential election.

Herreros explains that Macron is popular at this stage of his presidency – more so than his predecessors Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy – but that he fell off the hook because of two factors. “He went too late in the campaign,” says Herreros. “It was hard for him to say ‘hey, I’m the candidate’ when Putin was invading Ukraine. If he had gone in January or February, it would have been easier for him. He gave way to the extreme right.

He also linked up with Le Pen, thinking that France would never put him in power. “He always thought he would be automatically re-elected against Marine Le Pen. During his presidency, he would “wink, wink” at right-wing voters, some of his ministers would speak in a way that could be used by Le Pen. Now people say you played with fire, now we have the result of what you did.

So what will happen?

The neck and neck poll doesn’t tell the whole story, Herreros says. A low turnout could dash any pre-election anticipation, as Le Pen relies heavily on the working class vote to come out in favour. Le Pen’s party is still suffering from his party’s failure in last summer’s regional poll, blamed on a turnout of just 33% of voters in the first round.

There may also be a moment of clarity. “In France, when the extreme right is close to power, people wake up,” says Herreros. “And they lose every time.”

In 2015, Le Pen, who looked set to win the northern region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, lost in the second round, and his aforementioned niece, considered one of the best in the party. regional hopes, also lost in southern Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.

“They lost,” Herreros said. “But who knows how voters will react? Le Pen will say: “Macron is the system, vote for me”. You’re on the left and you don’t like Macron, vote for me”. It’s the same thing we saw with Brexit. Maybe people will think…let’s try.

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