France’s presidential contenders go head to head in election’s first televised debate
France’s leading presidential candidates will take part in the first live debate of the bitterly contested campaign tonight.
The confrontation, expected to take up a two-and-a-half-hour prime-time television slot, will challenge the five first-round frontrunners to outline their programmes on social, economic and international questions.
Marine Le Pen, of the far-right Front National, Emmanuel Macron, of the centrist En Marche movement, François Fillon of the opposition right Les Républicains, Benoît Hamon, official candidate for the Socialist party (PS), and hard-left JeanLuc Mélenchon of La France Insoumise (Unbowed France) – in order of current polling popularity – will take part.
Six other candidates officially accepted by the French constitutional council have not been invited, but are expected to join a second debate nearer to the first-round vote at the end of April.
Yesterday, Hamon rose to the challenge of giving his presidential campaign the kiss of life with a rousing appeal to thousands of supporters.
At a packed arena at Bercy in east Paris, he was given the sort of reception normally reserved for pop stars. The mostly young audience waved flags, cheered and leapt to their feet to whistle, cheer and chant: “Benoît, president.”
Hamon’s campaign team had hoped for at least 15,000 people at the venue as a show of strength after a march organised by the Mélenchon camp on Saturday that was reported to have attracted more than 100,000 people.
In the event, the 20,000-capacity stadium was full and up to several thousand people watched the 90-minute address on a screen outside.
However, Hamon, who is attracting about 13.5% in the opinion polls, has some way to catch up the first round frontrunners – Le Pen at 26.5%, Macron at 26%, and Fillon at 18%. Hamon is particularly struggling with a damaging split of the leftwing vote between him and Mélenchon, who is polling 10.5%.
“Your presence here is a message … everything begins today,” Hamon declared. “Everything begins with you. It’s not just the first day that will take us to power, but the first day that will begin the change in France. My determination is total because I know for whom I fight. Some have left the boat already after the first breezes – I will hold firm in the tempest.
“France is in a democratic burnout … the left can win and indeed must win.” He added it was not about the “destiny of a man … but the destiny of a country”.
Hamon, 49, went on to outline his anti-austerity, pro-Europe programme, which includes the introduction of a minimum universal income as a key, albeit controversial, measure.
“Universal income was a pillar of the programme of the French Resistance. Today we are taking up that combat, we are carrying that flame. And we are not ashamed. We are proud of it,” he said.
He attacked the oft-repeated claim that socialists needed to vote for Macron to block what he called “the xenophobic Front National dynasty”, saying tactical voting was “dangerous for democracy”.
Attacking his scandal-mired rivals Le Pen and Fillon and the “parties of money who have their hands on this election”, Hamon said he would publish a list of the donors who were funding his campaign, “because you have the right to know who is financing who”.
His speech covered globalisation, finance, capitalism, ecology, poverty and human rights, among many other themes, including the “recognition of Palestine alongside Israel”, more foreign development aid, discrimination, racism and sexism. “I will be a feminist president,” he promised. “I will do everything I can so the inequalities, stereotypes, violence will be, for the future generations, a strange aberration.”