Could France’s Marine Le Pen become president? Most analysts see a slim path to victory, but the far-right leader is repositioning and eyeing a turnaround in the polls over the next fortnight.
“We can win and I’m going to say it better: we’re going to win,” a confident-sounding Le Pen told France 2 television on Monday evening.
The anti-immigration leader failed to clinch the top spot in the first round of France’s presidential election on Sunday, coming second on 21.30 percent behind pro-Europe centrist Emmanuel Macron on 24.01. They will go head-to-head in a runoff on May 7.
After the first round, financial markets jumped as prospects appeared to diminish of Le Pen taking France out of the euro and the European Union as she has promised to do.
Snap polls released late Sunday showed 39-year-old Macron winning the runoff easily by a margin of around 60-40 percent, meaning Le Pen needs to make up more than 10 points in the next two weeks.
“Ten little points, believe me, it’s perfectly doable,” she said on Monday night.
– Tactical moves –
Her route to the presidency appears to require a coming together of various factors such as high abstention levels and errors by Macron, while another terror attack could also change the dynamic.
Since Sunday, the 48-year-old has been first out of the blocks ahead of Macron, who has been widely criticised for making a triumphal post-results speech and then partying in a chic bistro.
Le Monde newspaper warned that “the worst, the most dangerous, the most irresponsible” act would be to consider that his candidacy “did not suffer from a shadow of doubt”.
President Hollande joined in on Tuesday, telling Macron that “a vote is earned, it’s fought for” and that no one should think Le Pen’s defeat was a “done deal”.
In a symbolic move designed to widen her appeal, Le Pen announced Monday she would temporarily step away from her National Front (FN) party — still seen as toxic by many French voters.
And she made clear how she intends to take on her opponent, a former investment banker, ex-economy minister and advocate of the EU as well as global trade and ethnic diversity.
Le Pen has long savoured the prospect of the clash, seeing her rival as the face of “internationalism” versus her “France for the French” nationalism.
“The cloud is going to clear because now we’re head-to-head and French people are going to discover the content of his project which will have a severe social, economic and migratory impact,” she said.
A televised debate between the two of them on May 3 will be vital in shaping opinions heading into the final election weekend that will define France’s future and the EU’s.
– Two key factors –
Turnout is also likely to play a crucial role.
In 2002, when Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie made it through to the presidential runoff, mainstream parties and voters rallied to keep him out of power.
There are signs that the “republican front”, the decades-old tactic of closing ranks to block the FN, is fraying.
The Socialists and rightwing Republicans party have duly called for voters to elect Macron, but Communist-backed Jean-Luc Melenchon, who won 19.58 percent of the vote on Sunday, gave no guidance.
His young electorate, attracted by his anti-elite message, euroscepticism and promises to crack down on multinational companies, could play a role, either by not voting on May 7 or joining Le Pen.
Le Pen needs Melenchon voters to spend election day away from the ballot box and “go fishing”, one of her aides conceded to AFP on condition of anonymity, seeing it as one of two conditions crucial for her victory.
The other factor is that a large number of conservatives who backed rightwinger Francois Fillon in the first round “say to themselves that Marine Le Pen would be better than Emmanuel Macron on terrorism.”
Security leapt to the centre of the campaign last week when a 39-year-old Frenchman gunned down a policeman on the Champs Elysees in Paris.
France has suffered three major attacks since 2015 that have cost more than 230 lives, and another atrocity could make Le Pen’s hard line on foreign Islamists and immigration more appealing to this section of the electorate.
Dominique Reynie, head of the Foundation for Political Innovation think-tank in Paris, believes Le Pen will not be elected because most French people worry about her scrapping the euro.
But he calculates that 45 percent of voters opted for “anti-system” candidates like her in the first round, indicating a wide audience receptive to her message.
“If it wasn’t for the euro, I think she’d have a chance,” he told AFP.