Support for France’s 39-year-old centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron has jumped, a poll showed yesterday (26 February), following a new election alliance and mounting legal problems for his rivals.
The survey from the Odoxa-Dentsu Consulting group showed Macron winning 25% of the first-round vote if it were held today, slightly behind far-right leader Marine Le Pen on 27%.
In a run-off contest between the two top candidates, Macron would beat Le Pen easily 61% to 39%, the survey of 920 voters suggested.
France heads to the polls for the two-stage election on April 23 and May 7, with campaigning marked by a series of surprises that have made forecasting extremely hazardous.
Macron appears to be benefiting from a number of factors over the last week, notably an alliance with fellow centrist and political veteran François Bayrou who opted against running a rival campaign last week.
Macron, who started his own political movement last April, has also started giving more details about his pro-business, pro-European platform ahead of the official launch of his programme on Thursday (2 March).
His rivals, Le Pen and rightwing Republicans party candidate François Fillon, have also become more deeply embroiled in legal problems.
Both are accused of misusing public money by using fake parliamentary aides, while Le Pen faces a separate investigation into the funding of election campaigns in 2014 and 2015.
They deny wrongdoing and have sought to portray the investigations as politically motivated, saying they should be delayed or abandoned altogether.
“Imagine that during the presidential campaign you can’t investigate?” Socialist Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper yesterday, ruling out any suspension of the investigations.
“There is no law allowing a suspension like that. What would be the reason? In the name of what exception? In my opinion, nothing could justify it.”
The independence and neutrality of the justice system is under scrutiny ahead of the vote and amid high-profile probes into Fillon and Le Pen.
Urvoas said that in the past judges had sometimes taken into account the electoral calendar when fixing trial dates, but that judicial investigations had never been put on ice.
Le Pen’s ‘Trumpist’ media attack
A peaceful demonstration against Le Pen in the western city of Nantes on Saturday (25 February) afternoon degenerated into violence when groups of youths threw rocks and firebombs at police, injuring seven officers.
Shop windows were also smashed and public property was vandalised.
Le Pen went ahead with a rally in the city on Sunday where she railed against globalisation, France’s political elite and the European Union, as well as the banks and the media, which she said were backing Macron.
She said France was being “submerged” by illegal migrants and refugees.
“French people can’t put up with mass immigration any more!” she said to cheers. She accused the media of “campaigning hysterically” in favour of Macron, as new polls showed him enjoying a jump in support.
Le Pen, speaking at a rally in the western city of Nantes, launched a series of attacks on the 39-year-old independent who has emerged as a frontrunner to become France’s next leader.
In an attack that recalled US President Donald Trump’s confrontation with journalists, she added: “The media have chosen their candidate. They are campaigning hysterically for their darling.
“They take the moral high ground, pretend to only analyse the facts and then shout about the freedom of the press as soon as you criticise them,” she said to cheers.
The 48-year-old former lawyer, who took control of the National Front party from her father in 2011, has faced damaging headlines in recent days.
Le Pen’s personal assistant Catherine Griset was charged on Wednesday (22 February) with breach of trust in a probe into allegations the party defrauded the European Parliament of about €340,000.
On Saturday, legal sources told AFP that a confidant had been charged with making an illegal loan to her party.
“My responsibility is to do everything to show the French people that the National Front’s proposals are dead-ends hidden by lies,” Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told the Journal du Dimanche.
Fillon meanwhile faces a fraught two months ahead of the vote after French prosecutors’ decided on Friday to launch a full judicial inquiry into claims he paid his family for fake parliamentary jobs.
The 62-year-old ex-prime minister, who was once the clear favourite to be France’s next leader, will be investigated by three magistrates over allegations of embezzling public funds and misappropriating corporate assets.
The devout Catholic won the conservative nomination by campaigning as a “clean” candidate unsullied by the scandals of his rivals.
Since January he has been fighting claims by Le Canard Enchaine newspaper that he used allowances to pay his British-born wife Penelope at least €680,000 over some 15 years as a parliamentary aide.