Bitter French campaign ends amid more protests
Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said Friday she believes she can pull off a surprise victory in France’s high-stakes runoff election Sunday, while centrist frontrunner Emmanuel Macron accused of her of exploiting voter fears.
In an interview with The Associated Press in the final hours of a hostile, topsyturvy campaign, Le Pen said that win or lose, “we changed everything.” She claimed an “ideological victory” for her populist, anti-immigration worldview that has dominated a contest that could change Europe’s direction.
Macron acknowledged that the French are exasperated by the government’s ineffectiveness, but he dismissed Le Pen’s vision of an infuriated country, telling RTL radio that she “speaks for no one . ... Madame Le Pen exploits anger and hatred.”
The candidates must stop campaigning at midnight Friday to give voters a day of reflection before the election. It’s a stark choice: Le Pen’s antiimmigration, anti-European Union platform, or Macron’s progressive, pro-business view.
Tensions marred the race right to the end, as anti-Le Pen crowds disrupted her visit to a renowned cathedral in Reims in Champagne country.
The campaign has been unusually bitter, with voters hurling eggs and flour, protesters clashing with police, and candidates insulting each other on national television — a reflection of the widespread public
disaffection with politics as usual.
Le Pen, 48, has brought her National Front party closer than ever to the presidency, riding a wave of populism and growing frustration amid working class voters with globalization and immigration. Even if she loses, she is likely to be a powerful opposition figure in French politics in the coming parliamentary election campaign and beyond.
“Even if we don’t reach our goal, in any event there is a gigantic political force that is born,” she told AP in her campaign headquarters.
Regardless of Sunday’s outcome, Le Pen said she has achieved an “ideological victory . ... We changed everything.”
Her party managed to “impose the overhaul” of French politics and set the tone of the election, she said.
The 39-year-old Macron, too, played a key role in that, with his wild-card campaign
outside the traditional party structure.
Voters liked the idea, and chose Macron and Le Pen in the first-round vote April 23, dumping the traditional leftright parties that have governed modern France. Le Pen said those parties have been “blackballed.”
Many voters, however, don’t like either Le Pen or Macron. They fear her party’s racist past, while worrying that his platform would demolish worker protections or be too much like his mentor, the deeply unpopular outgoing President Francois Hollande.
Students protesting both candidates Friday blocked high schools and marched through Paris.
Le Pen, who was pelted with eggs Thursday in Brittany, was met by hecklers at the Reims cathedral. She left via an unmarked door, putting her arms over her head as if to protect herself from projectiles, and diving into a black car.
Children walk past election campaign posters for French centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, in Osses, southwestern France, Friday. France will vote on Sunday.