Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen are preparing for their one-on-one televised French presidential election debate, with much at stake for both contenders. They are expected to square off for more than two hours on Wednesday evening in their final showdown before Sunday’s run-off vote.
The latest opinion polls show the pro-EU Mr Macron holding a strong lead over his far-right rival Ms Le Pen. Mr Macron, who has been criticised for his early celebrations after he finished nearly three points ahead of Ms Le Pen in the first-round vote April 23, needs to convince leftist voters that his pro-business and liberal stance should not deter them from supporting him.
Ms Le Pen is expected to hammer home her favourite themes of security and identity. Both candidates will also go after backers of far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who refused to endorse either finalist in a race which he says pits “the extreme right” against “extreme finance” – a jab at Mr Macron’s career in banking.
Mr Macron said this week he heard the “anger” of those who voted for populist candidates, while Ms Le Pen, who tried to portray herself as the candidate of the people, called on the seven million backers of Mr Melenchon to “block” Mr Macron.
The 48-year-old Ms Le Pen should stay faithful to her colourful style and attack her rival head-on.
Mr Macron says he wants “to fight hand-to-hand, to fight in substance and demonstrate that her ideas are fake solutions”. Ms Le Pen used a tweet to associate Mr Macron to his mentor in politics, the unpopular President Francois Hollande.
“If Mr. Macron does not feel at ease, he still can ask Francois Hollande to come and hold his hand, I won’t oppose it,” Ms Le Pen wrote. Wednesday’s debate marks the first time that a National Front candidate is taking part in the pre-run-off TV debate.
In 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen – Marine’s father – made it to the second round, Jacques Chirac refused to appear with the far-right party co-founder, explaining that he did not want to contribute to the normalisation of hatred and intolerance.
The campaign is unfolding amid unprecedented security, with France under a state of emergency after multiple attacks by Islamic extremists. President Hollande has called for “the utmost vigilance and the mobilization of all state means to allow the smooth running of the second round of voting for the presidential election”.