As bitter French campaign ends, voters head to polls
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.”
Children study campaign posters for centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, in southwestern France, Friday