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On Sunday France goes to the polls to decide whether to give Mr Macron another five year term in the Elysée, or to make his far-right rival Ms Le Pen the first female French President in the Fifth Republic’s history. While the incumbent President performed well when facing off against Ms Le Pen in Wednesday’s televised debate, polls remain relatively close and the prospect of a French far-right President is not beyond the realms of possibility. The biggest challenge for both candidates will be to catch reluctant and undecided voters who supported other candidates, particularly the 7.7million people who chose Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round.
A major uncertainty going into the weekend is the potential level of abstention, after almost a quarter of eligible voters failed to cast a vote in the first round two week ago.
Some critics have noted that if turnouts are low, and French people don’t feel exercised enough to vote for Mr Macron through gritted teeth, Ms Le Pen may take the election.
Ms Le Pen’s campaign was initially marred by her links to Russian President Vladimir Putin, while much of her base, including her own niece Marion Maréchal, was defecting to Éric Zemmour.
However in recent weeks she gained traction by exploiting France’s cost of living fears.
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Ms Le Pen, who traditionally has focused on immigration issues, proposed fixing France’s economic problem by eliminating VAT on foods and essential household goods, while cutting the rate from 20 percent to five percent on electricity and petrol.
Prof Murray, a French politics expert at Queen Mary University of London, noted that the cost of living crisis was Mr Macron’s “weak spot” and that the President is perceived by some as “tone deaf” to the needs of everyday French people.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, Prof Murray said: “The cost of living crisis is a huge issue, it’s the number one preoccupation of the French, and it’s Macron’s weak spot.
“He’s done quite well in terms of bringing down unemployment and keeping the economy on a relatively even keel considering there’s been a pandemic.
“But he’s seen as the President of the rich, and he’s seen as defending the interests of the rich, and he’s therefore seen as completely tone deaf to the needs of the everyday French person who is struggling with the rise in prices.
“That is where Le Pen has managed to capture that elecorial market. The people that are disaffected, who feel that Macron has ignored them, has neglected them or that he just doesn’t care what they’re dealing with.”
Ms Le Pen has pledged to set France on a new economic course, driven by protectionist, nationalist ideas rather than Mr Marcon’s business friendly agenda.
She has also promised big tax cuts and new spending, in keeping with the new campaign slogan, ‘Give the French their money back’.
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Meanwhile Mr Macon is in Northern France, looking to persuade voters of his own record on the economy.
In his five years in office he has lowered unemployment, capped energy prices and started creating a host of more industrial jobs in France after decades of factory closures.
Nevertheless in the mining town of Lens, where unemployment was at 14 percent when Mr Macron took office and has now dropped to 10 percent, Ms Le Pen still topped the first round poll.
Prof Murray noted that Macron’s desire to raise the pension age from 62 to 65 amid the financial uncertainty in France has cost him votes.
She said: “When you actually look at [Ms Le Pen’s] manifesto she doesn’t actually have brilliant policies for dealing with the cost of living crisis.
“Most of her manifesto is about immigration, as it always has been, but she’s not been talking about that.
“She’s been talking about what’s in people’s pockets, what they can afford to spend, and that message has resonated in a way that he hasn’t.
“He hardly had any messages to deliver and the one policy that he made his flagship policy was deeply unpopular ‒ it was pension reform.
“He said, ‘Let’s raise the retirement age’, and that made sense in the context that he was so far in the polls that he looked invincible.
“Every French President in decades has tried to raise the retirement age and they’re always met with such resistance.
“But he thought ‘wow, if i’m going to be re-elected for a second term where I’m pretty much guaranteed victory, and then I don’t have to worry about re-election for a third time maybe I’m the person that can force this through’.
“But that was something he should have waited until after the election to do. It was a mistake to run with that as his headline because all it did was effectively punch in the face all the people that were already worried about their financial situation.”
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