Macron and Le Pen to square off in French
pre-election TV showdown
Send a link to a friend
[May 03, 2017]
By Richard Balmforth and Dominique Vidalon
PARIS (Reuters) - French voters can expect
verbal "hand-to-hand" combat when centrist Emmanuel Macron and the
far-right Marine Le Pen hold a televised debate on Wednesday night,
their last encounter before Sunday's run-off vote to pick the next
Opinion polls show Macron, 39, holding a strong lead of 20 points over
the National Front's Le Pen with just four days to go to the final vote,
in what is widely seen as France's most important election in decades.
Voters are choosing between Macron, a strongly Europe-minded ex-banker
who wants to cut state regulations in the economy while protecting
workers, and Le Pen, a euroskeptic who wants to ditch the euro currency
and impose sharp curbs on immigration.
Macron finished only three points ahead of Le Pen in the first round on
April 23, but he is widely expected now to pick up the bulk of votes
from the Socialists and the center-right whose candidates were
Though Le Pen has a mountain to climb to catch Macron, the campaign has
been packed with surprises, the exchanges between the two have become
noticeably sharper and the 48-year-old National Front veteran has shown
she is capable of catching him out with clever public relations
Upwards of 20 million viewers are expected to tune in to the debate out
of a voter population of close to 47 million.
Macron warned he would not pull his punches against a rival whose
policies - primarily the anti-euro strategy and a nativist
anti-immigrant policy on jobs and welfare - he says are dangerous for
"I am not going to employ invective. I am not going to use clichés or
insults. I'll use hand-to-hand fighting to demonstrate that her ideas
represent false solutions," he told BFM TV.
Le Pen, who portrays Macron as a candidate of high finance masquerading
as a liberal, told Reuters: "His program seems to be very vague, but in
reality it is a simple continuation of (Socialist President) Francois
In that interview she reaffirmed she wanted to take France out of the
euro and get a national currency back into French pockets within two
A Cevipof poll published on the website of Le Monde on Wednesday - one
of the last big polls before the Sunday vote - saw Macron getting 59
percent of the votes versus 41 percent for Le Pen, similar to other
pollsters in the last few days.
The poll said 85 percent were now sure which way they would vote,
leaving at least 15 percent of voters who could be swayed by what they
see and hear in the TV showdown.
[to top of second column]
A combination picture shows portraits of candidates for the second
round in the 2017 French presidential election, Marine Le Pen (L),
French National Front (FN) political party leader, and Emmanuel
Macron, head of the political movement En Marche!, (Onwards!).
Picture taken March 2, 2017 (L) and April 13, 2017 (R).
Commentators said Wednesday's debate could still have an influence,
particularly on potential abstainers, many of whom voted for the
candidate of the hard left who came fourth in the April 23 first
"What he (Macron) has to do is to convince the people who didn't
vote for him (in the first round) and who do not agree with his
program that they will be respected," one outgoing government
Macron, a one-time economy minister in a Hollande Socialist
government, heads only a fledgling movement called En Marche!
(Onwards!) which has no representation in parliament.
Assuming he wins, one of his immediate challenges will be to build a
parliamentary majority in follow-up elections in June to push
through his program and avoid being hamstrung by a National Assembly
where opponents hold sway.
If Le Pen wins on Sunday but fails to secure a parliamentary
majority, she would dissolve the National Assembly and call a fresh
parliamentary ballot under new proportional representation rules -
assuming that new voting system was endorsed in a referendum.
The center-right Republicans, still a major force even after their
presidential candidate Francois Fillon crashed out in the first
round, hope the parliamentary elections will give them enough power
to force Macron into a power-sharing arrangement.
Francois Baroin, a leading light of The Republicans who sees himself
as a prime minister if Macron accepted such a deal, told RTL radio:
"Macron is a man of the left and he'll swing to the left. I'll be
voting Macron on Sunday, but France will not get any reform with
(Additional reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Elizabeth Pineau, Simon
Carraud, Ingrid Melander and Michel Rose; Editing by Brian Love and
[© 2017 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2017 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.