SHOW­DOWN COM­MENCES

Macron, Le Pen go head-to-head in a tele­vised de­bate be­fore Sun­day’s vote

New Straits Times - - World -

THE bat­tle to be­come France’s next pres­i­dent boils down to a clash of con­trast­ing vi­sions. In one cor­ner is cen­trist Em­manuel Macron, with his pro-glob­al­i­sa­tion, pro-Euro­pean Union world view.

In the other, far-right can­di­date Marine Le Pen, who cham­pi­ons “na­tion­al­ism” and a “France-first” ap­proach.

“The coun­try Macron wants is no longer France. It’s a space, a waste­land, a trad­ing room where there are only con­sumers and pro­duc­ers,” she told thou­sands of sup­port­ers in Nice re­cently.

Macron has a dif­fer­ent mes­sage: “I will be the voice of hope for our coun­try and Europe.”

They were sched­uled to go head-to-head yes­ter­day in a tele­vised de­bate, in which sparks were sure to fly as they fight their cor­ner in a last en­counter be­fore Sun­day’s runoff vote.

Polls still show Macron, 39, hold­ing a strong lead of 20 points over Le Pen, with just four days to the fi­nal vote, in what is widely seen as France’s most im­por­tant election in decades.

Vot­ers are choos­ing be­tween Macron, a strongly Europe-minded ex-banker who wants to cut state reg­u­la­tions in the econ­omy while pro­tect­ing work­ers, and Le Pen, a Euroscep­tic who wants to ditch the Euro cur­rency and im­pose curbs on im­mi­gra­tion.

Though Le Pen has a moun­tain to climb to catch Macron, the cam­paign for the El­y­see has been packed with sur­prises. The ex­changes be­tween the two have be­come sharper and Le Pen has shown she is ca­pa­ble of catch­ing him out with clever public re­la­tions ma­noeu­vring.

Macron warned he would not pull any punches dur­ing the tele­vised en­counter against a ri­val whose poli­cies, he said, were dan­ger­ous for France.

“I am not go­ing to em­ploy in­vec­tive. I am not go­ing to use cliches or in­sults. I’ll use hand-to­hand fight­ing to demon­strate that her ideas rep­re­sent false so­lu­tions,” he told BFM TV.

Le Pen, who por­trays Macron as a can­di­date of high fi­nance mas­querad­ing as a lib­eral, said: “I shall be de­fend­ing my ideas. He will be de­fend­ing the pos­ture that he has adopted.”

“His pro­gramme seems to be vague, but in re­al­ity, it is a sim­ple con­tin­u­a­tion of Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande’s gov­ern­ment,” she said on Tues­day.

An Elabe poll for BFM TV and

L’Ex­press on Tues­day showed Macron win­ning 59 per cent of the votes in the sec­ond round versus 41 per cent for Le Pen.

Com­men­ta­tors said yes­ter­day’s de­bate could still have an in­flu­ence, par­tic­u­larly on po­ten­tial ab­stain­ers, many of whom voted for the can­di­date of the hard left, Jean-Luc Mé­len­chon, who came fourth in the April 23 first round.

AFP PIC

The stu­dio, where French pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates Em­manuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will take part in a tele­vised de­bate, in La Plaine Saint De­nis, out­side Paris.

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