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‘It’s over’: Macron risks losing support from left against Le Pen in French presidential election

A leading French daily has rattled the ruling party and sparked intense speculation about next year's presidential election by suggesting that voters won't come to Emmanuel Macron's aid if he finds himself in a rematch with the far-right.

'It's over': Macron risks losing support from left against Le Pen in French presidential election
Supporters of Marine Le Pen, presidential candidate for Front National party, watch Emmanuel Macron get elected back in 2017, by an estimated score of 65,5 precent after many leftwing voters decided to vote for him to prevent the far right from getting into power. Photo: Joel Saget / AFP.

Votes from the left propelled centrist Macron to power in 2017 in a run-off against far-right leader Marine Le Pen, just as they had helped Jacques Chirac in the 2002 election against Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie.

The report in Libération newspaper, based on accounts from hundreds of readers, said many left-leaning voters would no longer support Macron to prevent Le Pen taking power.

“I’ve blocked (the far right) in the past and this time it’s over,” read Libération’s shock front-page headline on Saturday — a quote from one of the voters who told the paper they could no longer bring themselves to vote for Macron, whatever the cost.

Polls predict the 2022 election coming down to another duel between the two politicians who fought it out on a globalist-versus-nationalist platform in 2017.

But this time, they show Le Pen far closer to the halls of power, with a Harris Interactive poll, which was never published but was leaked to the media last month, showing the National Rally leader taking 48 percent of the vote in a run-off with the incumbent.

A survey by Ipsos-Steria in early February showed that her chances would be significantly boosted by a mass stayaway by left-wing voters in the event she faced Macron.

Following Socialist Francois Hollande’s single-term presidency – which ended in 2017 with him so unpopular he decided not to stand again – the left is currently not tipped to make the run-off, with its vote split between Socialists, Greens and the hard-left La France Insoumise (France Unbowed).

‘Hurt and humiliated’

Some of Libération’s readers accused the president, who campaigned as a centrist but has been accused of tacking to the right, of acting as a “president of the rich” – a label dating from his decision early in his presidency to cut wealth taxes.

Others attacked his attempts to get the French to work longer before being eligible for a full pension as well as his crackdown on anti-government ‘yellow vest’ protests in 2018-2019 and his government’s tough rhetoric on immigration and radical Islam.

“Left-wing voters feel hurt and humiliated. They feel they are being forced to vote for a candidate who has not respected them,” Rémi Lefebvre, professor of political science at Lille University, told AFP.

Faced with the rise of the anti-immigrant, anti-EU Rassemblement National (National Rally, formerly Front National) over the past two decades, mainstream French parties have regularly formed electoral pacts to bar the party winning office.

The pressure to join the “Republican front” against the far-right peaked in 2002 when Jean-Marie Le Pen trumped leftwinger Lionel Jospin for a spot in the final against centre-right candidate Chirac.

Le Pen’s breakthrough sent shockwaves through France and prompted left-wing voters to swing en masse behind Chirac, who won the run-off by a landslide.   

But by 2017 the “everyone against Le Pen” strategy had already begun to unravel, with hard-left France Unbowed leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon notably refusing to endorse investment banker Macron against Marine Le Pen after he himself was knocked out of the running for president. 

‘Recycling the programme’

A former economy minister under Hollande, Macron has given key cabinet posts to allies of former right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy, such as Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin and Prime Minister Jean Castex.

In the past few weeks, his government has been accused of openly courting right-wing voters, with Darmanin criticising Marine Le Pen in a debate over her “softness” on Islamists.

Higher Education Minister Frédérique Vidal warned about the spread of “Islamo-leftism” in French universities, a term often used by the far-right to demonise leftists who defend Muslims

READ ALSO: ‘Islamo-gauchisme’ – what does it mean and why is it controversial in France?

“Whether on social policy, civil liberties or political rhetoric, people have the impression, I think justifiably, that Macron is recycling the programme of the National Rally,” Eric Coquerel, an MP for France Unbowed, told AFP.

Coquerel voted for Macron in the run-off of the 2017 election but said “quite frankly, if it were to be done again I think I would have the same reaction as these voters (who say they will not support him again)”.

Gilles Finchelstein, director of the left-leaning Jean Jaures thinktank, said left-wing voters were “fed up” being asked to vote for the right or centre-right.

But if the election did produce another Macron-Le Pen face-off, “some of the left-wing voters who say today they will not go to vote will probably nonetheless vote for Macron,” he predicted.

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POLITICS

Macron caps US state visit with New Orleans trip

President Emmanuel Macron on Friday headed to the southern American city of New Orleans, which retains much of its French-infused heritage, as he wraps up a rare three-day state visit to the United States.

Macron caps US state visit with New Orleans trip

After vowing continued support for Ukraine and seeking to quell a EU-US trade dispute during White House talks with President Joe Biden, Macron was expected to meet with local officials and energy companies in New Orleans and unveil a French language program.

Once a French colonial city, New Orleans was sold to the United States by Napoleon as part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and Macron has called it “the quintessential francophone land.”

Macron will promote an initiative to broaden access to French language education for American students, with a focus on disadvantaged groups “for whom the French language can be a multiplier of opportunities,” the French leader said.

Addressing members of the French community in Washington on Wednesday, Macron added that he wanted to revamp the image of the French tongue in the United States, “which is sometimes seen as elitist.”

Macron will follow in the footsteps of French President Charles de Gaulle, who visited New Orleans in 1960. As he strolls through the streets of “NOLA,” Macron is likely to stop by the “Vieux Carre,” or “French Quarter”, the bustling historic city center.

“We have a history in New Orleans and important things to say there concerning both our history and what we want to do for the future,” the Elysee Palace said in a statement.

Energy and climate

Besides celebrating French-American ties, Macron will pay tribute to the victims of Hurricane Katrina which killed more than 1,800 people in and around New Orleans and caused billions of dollars in damage in 2005.

Macron will also meet with businesses “devoted to energy and climate issues,” according to his office, while French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna and Louisiana Governor John Edwards will sign an energy deal.

Accompanied by French film director Claude Lelouch and dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied, Macron will meet local artists and prominent cultural figures of New Orleans, known as the birthplace of jazz.

The visit will come on the heels of a lavish dinner at the White House, headlined by master jazzman Jon Batiste, who comes from a family of New Orleans musicians.

Macron’s state visit — the first such formal occasion since Biden took office in January 2021 — symbolized how Washington and Paris have buried last year’s bitter spat over the way Australia pulled out of a French submarine deal in favor of acquiring US nuclear subs instead.

The visit featured a full military honor guard for Macron, including service members from the marines, army, air force and even a detachment of soldiers in 18th-century Revolutionary War garb.

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