27 February 2017

French election polls show Le Pen on 27 percent and Macron closing the gap, on 25 percent

Paris (AFP) - French far-right leader Marine Le Pen on Sunday accused the media of "campaigning hysterically" in favour of Emmanuel Macron, her centrist rival for the presidency, 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.

She accused the ex-economy minister of wanting to create a "migrant motorway" between France and north Africa, adding that "financial interests and their intermediaries in the media" had clearly taken his side.

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.

Two new polls published on Sunday showed Le Pen still winning the first round of the election on April 23 with 27 percent, but with Macron closing the gap on her with 25 percent.

In the second round run-off vote, set for May 7, despite her belief that Trump's victory and Brexit point to a revival of nationalism and anti-elite movements like hers, Le Pen would lose by 20 points to Macron if it were held today, the polls showed.

Analysts urge caution about making firm forecasts, however, after a series of political shocks in Western democracies in the last year and a string of surprises in French politics.

- Favourable winds for Macron -

The new polling, done immediately after Macron's electoral alliance with fellow centrist Francois Bayrou last Wednesday, nevertheless underline the potential importance of the tie up.

Bayrou's pledge to support Macron removed a potential rival in the centreground just as increasing numbers of backers from the Socialist party and the centre-right trickle in.

The ex-banker, who started his own political movement "En Marche" ("On The Move") last April, has also started giving more details of his pro-business platform ahead of the official launch of his programme on Thursday.

At the same time, both Le Pen and rightwing Republicans party candidate Francois Fillon have 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.

An aide and a political ally to Le Pen were charged last week, while Fillon faces a full judicial inquiry into claims he paid his wife and children for fake parliamentary jobs.

They deny wrongdoing and have sought to portray the investigations as politically motivated.

- France 'submerged' -

The build up to Le Pen's speech on Sunday was marred by violence when a peaceful demonstration against her on Saturday afternoon degenerated, leaving seven police officers injured.

Groups of youths, some of them masked, threw rocks and firebombs at police, smashed shop windows and vandalised public property.

Le Pen went ahead with the rally and delivered a typical speech laced with criticism of France's political elite, globalisation, the European Union -- and Macron.

In one passage she targeted what some observers see as his vulnerabilities, namely his pro-European sympathies at a time of widespread disaffection with the EU project, as well as his openness to immigration.

"Mr Macron went to Germany recently to express the admiration he had for their decision to welcome 1.5 million migrants," she said, referring to Chancellor Angela Merkel's policy of accepting refugees last year.

"French people can't put up with mass immigration any more!" she said, again to cheers from the crowd waving French flags.

Socialist Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Sunday he would work hard to block Le Pen, whose victory would likely end the European Union in its current form and potentially the euro.

"My responsibility is to do everything to show the French people that the National Front's proposals are dead-ends hidden by lies," he said.

Netherlands General elections take place on 15 March to choose members of the House of Representatives.

France Presidential elections take place in April and May. The first round is on 23 April, then the two leading candidates face each other in a runoff on 7 May.

Germany Elections to the Bundestag federal parliament take place on 24 September.