As bit­ter French cam­paign ends, vot­ers head to polls

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - ELAINE GANLEY AND NA­DINE ACHOUI-LESAGE

PARIS — Far-right pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Marine Le Pen said Fri­day she be­lieves she can pull off a sur­prise vic­tory in France’s high­stakes run-off Sunday, while in­de­pen­dent front-run­ner Em­manuel Macron ac­cused her of ex­ploit­ing voter fears.

In an in­ter­view in the fi­nal hours of a hos­tile, topsy-turvy cam­paign, Le Pen said that win or lose, “we changed ev­ery­thing.” She claimed an “ide­o­log­i­cal vic­tory” for her pop­ulist, anti-im­mi­grant world­view in an elec­tion 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.

She “speaks for no one … Madame Le Pen ex­ploits anger and ha­tred,” Macron told RTL ra­dio.

The pro-busi­ness Macron said he has not bowed to pres­sure to change his plat­form to ap­peal to a broader elec­torate — on the left or the right — since win­ning the first round of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion on April 23. He told the news web­site Me­di­a­part that would not have been “demo­crat­i­cally hon­est.”

The can­di­dates must stop cam­paign­ing at mid­night Fri­day to give vot­ers a day of re­flec­tion. It’s a stark choice: Le Pen’s anti-im­mi­gra­tion, anti-EU plat­form, or Macron’s pro­gres­sive, pro-EU stance.

Ten­sions marred the race right to the end.

France’s pres­i­den­tial vot­ing watch­dog called on the In­te­rior Min­istry late Fri­day to look into claims by the Le Pen cam­paign that bal­lot pa­pers are be­ing tam­pered with na­tion­wide to ben­e­fit Macron. The Le Pen cam­paign said elec­toral ad­min­is­tra­tors in sev­eral re­gions who re­ceive bal­lot pa­pers for both can­di­dates have found the Le Pen bal­lot “sys­tem­at­i­cally torn up.”

Ear­lier in the day, anti-Le Pen crowds dis­rupted her visit to a renowned cathe­dral in Reims.

The pres­i­den­tial 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 far­right Na­tional Front party, once a pariah for its racism and anti-Semitism, closer than ever to the French pres­i­dency, seiz­ing on work­ing­class vot­ers’ grow­ing frus­tra­tion with glob­al­iza­tion and im­mi­gra­tion. Even if she loses, she is likely to be a pow­er­ful op­po­si­tion fig­ure in French pol­i­tics in the up­com­ing par­lia­men­tary elec­tion cam­paign.

“Even if we don’t reach our goal, in any event there is a gi­gan­tic po­lit­i­cal force that is born,” she said. Her party “im­posed 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 up­end­ing France’s tra­di­tional po­lit­i­cal struc­ture with his wild-card cam­paign.

Vot­ers liked the idea, and chose Macron and Le Pen in the firstround vote, dump­ing the tra­di­tional left and right par­ties. Le Pen said those par­ties have been “black­balled.”

BOB EDME, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Chil­dren study cam­paign posters for cen­trist can­di­date Em­manuel Macron and far-right can­di­date Marine Le Pen, in south­west­ern France, Fri­day

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