Déjà vu: French election rematch between Macron and Le Pen for Sunday



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The French will go to the polls on Sunday for the first round of the presidential elections. Centrist President Emmanuel Macron and his far-right challenger Marine Le Pen are expected to be the top two voters to qualify for a runoff in two weeks.

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, speaks during a speech to citizens and elected officials in Spezat, France, on April 5, 2022. While polls point to a victory for Macron, the latest daily polls show that the gap is narrowing until Marine Le Pen .
(Nathan Laine/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

That would be the same combination as in 2017, when Macron easily beat Le Pen. But some analysts are now predicting that it could be much closer this time around.

“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 the real unpopularity. A reformist technocrat, he has been haunted by the ‘distant’ label for years. The 2018 “Yellow Vest” street protests were all about claims Macron failed to understand the population’s problems.

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“A lot of people feel abandoned and despised by him,” Malard noted.

For its part, Le Pen has “sanded down” some of her “harder sides” on issues like immigration and Islam, Malard said. She focuses on more “kitchen table” issues, such as inflation, which, as elsewhere, is hitting France hard. It doesn’t hurt either that the French electorate has moved to the right.

Campaign posters on billboards next to a polling station on April 4, 2022 in Paris.

Campaign posters on billboards next to a polling station on April 4, 2022 in Paris.
(Antoine Gyori/Corbis via Getty Images)

“She has managed to soften a bad image,” Malard said.

A late poll puts Macron at just 51% of Le Pen’s 49% in a possible runoff election, 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 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? It certainly wouldn’t help matters with the European Union. She has long been a critic of Brussels and is said to join other far-right leaders in Europe, such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban.

French far-right party leader Rassemblement National (RN) and MP Marine Le Pen address the press at party headquarters after the first results in the second round of France's regional elections in Nanterre on June 27, 2021.

French far-right party leader Rassemblement National (RN) and MP Marine Le Pen address the press at party headquarters after the first results in the second round of France’s regional elections in Nanterre on June 27, 2021.
(Geoffroy Van Der Hasset/AFP/via Getty Images)

As for America’s “oldest” foreign alliance? “I think she would be stricter against the US,” Malard said. “She was always on Trump’s side.”

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Still, the French have a habit of casting a “protest vote” in the first round of the presidential election and then “holding their noses” and going for the safe choice in the second round. That would indicate a new five-year term for Macron.

Judging by past meetings, that’s likely an outcome President Biden would be pleased with. At 44 years old, Macron would certainly be ready. In a little over two weeks we will see if France is too.

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