In France, elections to bite the nails while Macron’s rival emerges

FILE – French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a news conference at an EU summit in Brussels, Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. One of President Joe Biden’s most difficult meetings at the G-20 summit may be with the leader of America’s oldest ally: France. . Biden and French President Macron will meet on Friday, October 29, 2021, in Rome as Paris is still furious over a US-British submarine deal with Australia. (Aris Oikonomou/Pool Photo via AP, File)

POISSY, France (AP) — From the market stall on the outskirts of Paris that she has run for 40 years, Yvette Robert can see firsthand how skyrocketing prices weigh on france presidential election and turning Sunday’s first round of voting into a challenge for incumbent President Emmanuel Macron.

Shoppers, increasingly worried about making ends meet, are buying smaller and smaller amounts of Robert’s neatly stacked fruits and vegetables, she says. And some of her customers no longer come to the market for her baguettes, cheeses and other tasty offerings. Robert suspects that with fuel prices so high, some can no longer afford to take their vehicles to the store.

“People are scared, with everything going up, with fuel prices going up,” he said on Friday as campaigning for the first act of the two-part French election drama, which took place against the backdrop of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Macron, a political centrist, for months seemed like a surefire candidate to become the first French president in 20 years to win a second term. But that scenario was blurred in the final stages of the campaign. The pain of inflation and the prices of pumps, food and energy, which are hitting low-income households particularly hard, subsequently re-emerged as dominant themes of the election. They could drive many voters on Sunday into the arms of far-right leader Marine Le Pen, Macron’s political nemesis.

Macron, now 44, defeated Le Pen by a landslide to become the youngest president of France in 2017. The victory of the former banker who, unlike Le Pen, is a fervent advocate of European collaboration, was seen as a victory against populist and nationalist politics, which came in the wake of from The election of Donald Trump to the White House Y Britain’s vote to leave the European Unionboth in 2016.

In courting voters, Macron has economic successes to point to: The French economy is recovering faster than expected from the ravages of COVID-19, with a growth rate of 7% in 2021, the highest since 1969. Unemployment has dropped to levels not seen since the 2008 financial crisis. Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24sparking Europe’s worst security crisis since World War II, Macron also scored a surge in the polls, with people rallying around the wartime leader.

But Le Pen, 53, is now a more polished, formidable and intelligent political enemy as she makes her third attempt to become France’s first female president. And she has campaigned particularly hard and for months on cost-of-living concerns, cashing in on the issue that polls show is top of voters’ minds.

Le Pen also accomplished two notable feats. Despite her plans to slash immigration and roll back some Muslim rights in France, she appears to have convinced a growing number of voters that she is no longer the dangerous, racist nationalist extremist that critics, including Macron, accuse her of. be.

He has done so in part by watering down some of his rhetoric and fiery spirit. She also had outside help: A presidential race by Eric Zemmouran even more extreme far right agitator with repeated convictions for hate speech, it has had the added benefit for Le Pen of making her seem almost conventional by comparison.

Second, and also amazing: Le Pen has deftly dodged any significant pushback for her previous perceived closeness to Russian President Vladimir Putin. She went to the Kremlin to meet him during his last presidential campaign in 2017. But in the wake of the war in Ukraine, that potential embarrassment doesn’t seem to have turned Le Pen’s supporters against him. She called the invasion “absolutely indefensible” and said Putin’s behavior cannot be excused “in any way.”

At his market stall, Robert says he plans to vote for Macron, in part because of the billions of euros (dollars) his government doled out at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to keep people afloat, French business and economy. When the food markets closed, Robert received 1,500 euros ($1,600) a month to help her.

“He didn’t leave anyone on the side of the road,” he says of Macron.

But she thinks that this time, Le Pen also has a chance.

“She has changed the way she talks,” Robert said. “She has learned to moderate herself.”

Barring a monumental surprise, both Macron and Le Pen are expected to advance again from the 12-candidate first-round field, to set up a winner-take-all rematch in the second round of voting on April 24. Surveys suggest much more. Left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon is likely to finish out of the race in third place. Some of France’s overseas territories in the Pacific, the Caribbean and South America vote on Saturday, before voting on the French mainland on Sunday.

When Macron made a campaign stop in Poissy, the town west of Paris where Robert is based, in early March, polls had him leading Le Pen by double digits. Although a victory for Le Pen still seems unlikely, much of Macron’s advantage has subsequently evaporated. Kept busy by the war in Ukraine, Macron may be paying a price for his somewhat subdued campaign, which made him appear distant to some voters.

Market goer Marie-Helene Hirel, a 64-year-old retired tax collector, voted for Macron in 2017 but said she is too angry with him to do so again. As he fights for her pension with rising prices, Hirel said she is thinking of shifting her vote to Le Pen, who has promised tax cuts on fuel and energy that Macron says would be ruinous.

Although Le Pen’s “relationships with Putin worry me,” Hirel said voting for her would be a way to protest Macron and what she perceives as his inability to better protect people from the sting of inflation.

“Now I am also part of the ‘everyone against Macron’ camp,” he said. “He’s fooling us all.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.