Europe holds its breath as France prepares to vote

Presidential candidates make late push as final polls show Macron well ahead of Le Pen

French presidential election candidates Emmanuel Macron,   for the En Marche! movement, and  Marine Le Pen,  for the far-right Front National party. Photographs:  Eric Feferberg,Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images

French presidential election candidates Emmanuel Macron, for the En Marche! movement, and Marine Le Pen, for the far-right Front National party. Photographs: Eric Feferberg,Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images

 

The French presidential election campaign officially ended at midnight on Friday. Radio and television stations are banned from discussing candidates or polls until the face of the new president appears on television screens at 8pm French time on Sunday (7pm Irish time).

The last polls showed the centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron winning with between 59 and 62 per cent of the vote.

Marine Le Pen, the candidate of the extreme right-wing Front National (FN), made her last public appearance on Friday in Reims cathedral, where the kings of France were crowned.

Ms Le Pen was confronted by protesters shouting “F like Fascist. N like Nazi,” and “Marine, give the money back!” The slogan alluded to allegations that Ms Le Pen, an MEP, used hundreds of thousands of euro in EU funds to pay salaries at FN party headquarters outside Paris.

Ms Le Pen stayed inside the cathedral with Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, the renegade Gaullist whom she promised to make prime minister, for more than an hour before fleeing through a side door.

“Hordes came to shove me and insult me,” the FN candidate complained on reaching her campaign headquarters.

At the same time, Mr Macron was greeted warmly by a crowd at the cathedral in Rodez.

A television debate with Mr Macron on May 3rd ended Ms Le Pen’s slight rise in the polls, which started after the first round on April 23rd.

At her last rally, in the village of Ennemain in the Somme on Thursday night, Ms Le Pen said she served as “the voice of the people, the expression of the anger of the silent majority”, in the debate.

Dark warnings

In a tacit admission that she will be defeated on Sunday, Ms Le Pen warned darkly of the future. “My voice was but the echo of the social violence that will explode in this country,” she said.

In an apparent bid for greater support from the left, Mr Macron travelled on Thursday to the Tarn region that was home to Jean Jaurès, the father of French socialism. He was heckled by communist trade unionists shouting “The bankers’ candidate!”

It was important to allow negotiations between management and trade unionists within companies, Mr Macron said, “because there’s 10 per cent unemployment in France and it doesn’t work”.

At his last rally, in Albi, Mr Macron attempted to reassure workers, saying “I don’t want a society that builds its success on injustice, because those societies explode . . . Profits mean social and environmental responsibility.”

Mr Macron told Europe 1 radio on Friday that he knows who he will appoint as prime minister if he wins. He said the person has political experience and will lead his En Marche! movement’s campaign for the June legislative election.

Mr Macron said that, if he is elected, he will be inaugurated on May 13th or 14th, and will reveal the identity of his choice as prime minister then.

Clinton aides

En Marche! circulated a video to campaign workers warning them not to foretell Mr Macron’s victory. It showed Hillary Clinton’s aides saying she was certain to win, shortly before the US presidential election.

In a rare show of bipartisanship, politicians from the conservative Les Républicains and the Socialist party held a debate near the National Assembly in support of Mr Macron on Friday night. Organised by the public intellectual Bernard Henri Lévy , its goal was to discourage voters from abstaining.

Both candidates have organised post-election parties on Sunday night. Ms Le Pen’s will take place in the Bois de Vincennes, Mr Macron’s around the pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre. Both will have security conditions similar to fan zones in last year’s Euro 2016 football tournament.

Election result coverage can be seen in Ireland on TV5MONDE from 6pm on Sunday.

French election night at irishtimes.com

Hugh Linehan’s liveblog will run from 5.30pm tomorrow, with preliminary results due soon after polls close at 7pm Irish time. Foreign Affairs Correspondent Ruadhán Mac Cormaic will report on results as they come in, while Paris Correspondent Lara Marlowe will provide news and analysis.