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Marine Le Pen, the longtime leader of a far-right political movement in France, is moving closer to winning the presidency. Le Pen, who lost the presidency in 2017 to Emmanuel Macron, officially advanced to the runoff election on Sunday. Polls for the April 24th runoff in the French presidential election show a tight race between Le Pen and incumbent President Macron. Many in France are expressing concern that the extremist leader could seize power in an upset victory.
Two major candidates eliminated after the first round of voting both say they will oppose Le Pen in the runoff.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left candidate who missed the runoff by just a few percentage points, is urging his supporters not to vote for Le Pen. However, Mélenchon has stopped short of endorsing Macron thus far, a move which could potentially play in Le Pen’s favor.
Another candidate, conservative Valerie Pecresse went further, endorsing Macron while slamming Le Pen.
“(Marine Le Pen’s) historical proximity with Vladimir Putin discredits her from defending the interests of our country in these tragic times,” Pecresse said to supporters on election night.
“Her election would mean that France would become irrelevant on the European and international scenes. Therefore, and despite my strong disagreement with Macron… I will vote for him in order to stop Marine Le Pen.”
Le Pen softens image while maintaining hardline, far-right policies
Despite being soundly defeated in her match-up with Macron five years ago, Le Pen is the closest she has ever come to winning the French presidency. The nationalist candidate has worked to make herself appear more moderate since the last election.
According to The Guardian, Le Pen has hired a team of consultants to soften her image. The three-time presidential candidate has focused on sharing pictures of her cats, posing for selfies and telling childhood stories.
All of this has allowed her to “create a distance between her smiling persona and the radical reality of her far-right, anti-immigration manifesto to keep France for the French.”
Le Pen’s policies still contain many of the same extremist and hardline proposals, including:
- Banning Muslim headscarfs in public, calling the cultural attire “a uniform of totalitarian ideology”.
- Changing France’s constitution to weaken rights of immigrants and foreign nationals.
- Ending nationality rights for children raised in France whose parents were citizens of another country.
Many expect the next two weeks of the French presidential election to be incredibly contentious. Le Pen will likely attack Macron for a struggling economy and out-of-touch approach to leadership. Macron is expected to attack Le Pen for her history of divisive rhetoric and xenophobic policies.
In her speech to supporters on election night, Le Pen said “I will bring back France’s sovereignty in all areas, which means freedom for the French people to decide for themselves and defend their interests. I will control immigration and re-establish security for all.”