Macron’s rivals bemoan lack of debate ahead of first election round

The media have so far organised programmes in which journalists interview candidates one after the other and candidates are sometimes given time to respond to what others have said. EPA-EFE/BERTRAND GUAY / POOL MAXPPP OUT [EPA-EFE/BERTRAND GUAY / POOL MAXPPP OUT]

With the presidential elections less than a month away, a proper debate between candidates is yet to occur, with some even refusing to do so before the first round of voting. EURACTIV France reports.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who recently announced he would be up for re-election and far-right leader Marine Le Pen of Rassemblement National, have both refused to debate other candidates at this stage.

In the run-up to the previous presidential election in 2017, candidates organised debates between the first and second rounds of the elections.

However, with all candidates now using social media to address the electorate directly, the importance of debates has waned. However, when compared to live debates, social media’s somewhat limited reach does not always accurately compare the candidates’ programmes.

So far, there have only been one-on-one debates, including the one on 10 March between right-wing candidate Valérie Pécresse and far-right leader Éric Zemmour, and one in September between Zemmour and radical-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Several broadcasters have, of course, tried hard to convince the campaign teams of each candidate. Yet Macron and Le Pen, both currently leading the polls, refuse to confront their rivals.

Macron said he would follow the lead of his predecessors, who stood for re-election and never debated others before the first round.

The confident, outgoing president prefers to save himself for round two, where he would debate only one other candidate rather than the eleven others competing in the first round.

Le Pen, also very confident, believes she will make it to the second round to face Macron. Thus, she refuses to engage with any other candidate besides him because of her candidacy’s ”electoral level”, her entourage told AFP.

Le Pen is currently polling ahead of her rivals by several points.

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As a result, the media have only organised programmes in which journalists interview candidates one after the other. Candidates are sometimes given time to respond to what others have said – a far cry from the classic debates that characterise the presidential elections.

Candidates like Pécresse, Zemmour and Mélenchon have bemoaned the situation.

Pécresse, for instance, regrets the lack of debate, blaming the “the fear” of those who shy from it.

Alexis Corbière, spokesperson of Mélenchon’s party La France Insoumise, regretted a “moment of meaningful exchange with the current president” was prevented.

Mélenchon, in particular, stood out compared to other left-wing candidates in the previous elections in 2017. His performance in TV debates allowed him to create momentum and climb the polls to gain almost 20% in the first round, falling slightly short of making it to the second.

While a full-on debate is unlikely to happen, it is hoped the one-on-one with other candidates or just journalists will be enough for voters to make up an informed mind before casting their vote in both rounds on 10 and 24 April, respectively.

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[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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