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Macron faces the fight of his life to win the French presidential election

In revolutionEmmanuel Macron, a book he published six months before his victory in the 2017 French presidential election, wrote Emmanuel Macron that the far right would be in power in five or 10 years if the French people didn’t pull themselves together. That alarming prospectwhile not the most likely outcome of the 2022 election, seems closer to reality now than at any point in the Fifth Republic’s 64-year history.

After the first ballot on Sunday, Macron and the far-right Marine Le Pen will meet in the knockout competition on April 24. The same couple fought each other in 2017. But all opinion polls point to it much tighter competition than the crushing 66-34 percent triumph that Macron achieved five years ago.

A Le Pen victory would have repercussions far beyond France. It would be a shattering blow to liberal democracy in the western world and would throw the 27-nation EU into turmoil at that very moment the US and its allies are in a battle over Ukraine with the nationalist, authoritarian Russia of President Vladimir Putin.

Macron will take comfort in the fact that his first-round lead over Le Pen was loud leave pollsbigger than he managed in 2017. Besides, no opinion polls have hinted that Le Pen could beat Macron in the knockout stages.

However, the gap between the two has narrowed significantly in recent weeks. A month ago, Macron appeared to have received about 57-61 percent of the vote in the second round, and Le Pen 40-43 percent. Last week, three surveys estimated Macron’s vote at 50-51.5 percent and Le Pen’s at 48.5-49 percent. Allowing for a margin of error, Le Pen could be within striking distance of an upset win.

One reason is that much of the electorate doesn’t see her anymore as a dangerous radical with devious politics and flimsy knowledge of France’s economic and social problems. A report The left-leaning Jean Jaurès Foundation concluded: “The arguments related to her incompetence or lack of knowledge no longer seem tenable at a time when parts of France see her as utterly presidential and close to the people. . . Her future opponent will therefore have to beat her on a completely different terrain in the second round.”

Macron sealed his 2017 victory with a full-scale demolition of Le Pen in an election debate that took place between the two ballots. Now it’s less certain that such a feat would benefit him to the same extent. Le Pen dropped some policies on which she was vulnerable, such as pledging to withdraw France from the 19-nation eurozone.

Instead, her campaign has developed an increasing momentum that she has relentlessly focused on Cost of living issues which have sharpened in the minds of French voters since the Ukraine war broke out in February. She has maintained her appeal to workers who once voted for the left in run-down industrial areas and to the people of Berlin provincial cities and rural areas those were the sides of the yellow vests (Yellow Vests) protests of 2018.

In contrast, Macron is no longer the dynamic fresh outsider he was in 2017, but an incumbent president identified in the minds of many voters with Parisian elites and the wealthiest strata of French society. His intensive diplomatic efforts A few weeks before and during the Ukraine war gave him a boost in the polls, but that has since faded. Le Pen’s decision to officially enter the presidential race at almost the last minute allowed much of the pace to be set.

If Macron is to win in two weeks, he needs as many voters from left, center and right to rally behind him in a so-called “Republican front” against the far-right threat. That worked for Jacques Chirac when he swept Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father, by 82 to 18 percent in 2002. To a lesser but still crucial degree, it worked for Macron in 2017. The whole world will be watching to see if it can work again on April 24th.

tony.barber@ft.com

More on the French presidential election

Emmanuel Macron meets Marine Le Pen in French runoff

President and far-right rival qualify for second ballot April 24th

Emmanuel Macron, the smartest boy in the class, faces his biggest test of all time

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Although many voters dislike the President, most French speak more radically than you think

https://www.ft.com/content/d18fe1de-83e5-4eb4-ab90-a483b41d27d5 Macron faces the fight of his life to win the French presidential election

Adam Bradshaw

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