Paris (AFP) – France’s rivals for the presidency, centrist frontrunner Emmanuel Macron and far-right rival Marine Le Pen, braced for major shows of opposition to their programmes Monday on a fractious May 1 holiday.
Both candidates will hold rallies just six days before the decisive second round.
France’s powerful unions will also stage traditional May Day marches but the demonstrations will underscore the conspicuous absence of the united front they showed in 2002 when Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie shocked the country by reaching the run-off.
On this day 15 years ago, some 1.3 million people took to the streets of France in union-led demonstrations to protest against the founder of the National Front (FN), including 400,000 in Paris.
That show of force, coupled with a political closing of ranks, helped centre-right Jacques Chirac inflict a crushing defeat on Le Pen senior.
This time, unions are divided over the choice between his 48-year-old daughter and 39-year-old Macron.
Two, the CFDT and Unsa, have called for their members to back Macron on Sunday.
But while three other more left-wing unions including the biggest, the CGT, have called for a demonstration against Marine Le Pen’s vision of French identity and opposition to immigration, they have stopped short of backing Macron.
For many on the left, the former banker’s outlook is too economically liberal.
Le Pen has tried to capitalise on their fears, saying last week that Macron would turn France into “a space, a wasteland, a trading room where there are only consumers and producers.”
- ‘Not the same thing’ –
Some militants have formed a movement they have called “Social Front” to block both candidates and will march Monday under a banner saying: “Rock and a hard place: Social Front, it will be won in the streets.”
CGT leader Philippe Martinez said he “deeply disagreed” with that approach, arguing that Le Pen and Macron “are not the same thing”.
“The National Front is a racist, xenophobic party that is anti-women and anti-workers because it is also an economically liberal party,” he said.
Le Pen hit back that the unions “are not defending workers’ interests, they are looking after their own interests”.
“To see the CGT call on its members to vote for Macron, who is going to weaken the workers’ lot… is just astonishing,” she said.
Macron is currently favourite to become France’s youngest ever president, leading Le Pen by 19 points in the polls, but she has shown she is a canny campaigner.
She took her campaign Monday to the working-class Paris suburb of Villepinte where the first key speaker was Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, a eurosceptic from outside the FN who Le Pen has said will be her prime minister if wins on Sunday.
She is hoping to capture some of the 1.7 million votes he won in the first round, although his support for Le Pen has divided his own party.
Macron was to speak later at a modern convention centre near the La Villette science park in northeastern Paris as he seeks to highlight his appeal as a future-oriented innovator.
In Paris, Le Pen’s 88-year-old father Jean-Marie — whom she kicked out of the FN in 2015 — led a march from a gilded statue of Joan of Arc, the FN’s nationalist icon, to Paris’ Opera Garnier.
His presence in the campaign is an irritation for his daughter, after he repeatedly called the Nazi gas chambers a “detail” of history.
Marine Le Pen, who has worked to rebrand the FN to shed its associations with her anti-Semitic father, on Sunday laid a wreath at a World War II monument in the port of Marseille as France marked a day of remembrance for the victims of the mass deportation of Jews to Nazi Germany during World War II.
Macron paid his respects at Paris’s Holocaust memorial.
The deportation of French Jews to Nazi Germany holds a highly sensitive place in the national psyche.
“What happened is unforgettable and unforgivable,” Macron said at the memorial after pausing before a wall bearing the names of 76,000 Jews who were deported, of whom just 2,500 survived.
“It should never happen again.”
<figure><figcaption>Marine Le Pen has proved a canny campaign <span>Copyright AFP joel SAGET</span> </figcaption><img src="https://desiforce.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/ff3ebfe085381a1308d1e1a198d42068178282e5.jpg" width="768" height="512"><figcaption>A woman holds a placard reading "no to hatred" , during a union demonstration in Paris <span>Copyright AFP PHILIPPE LOPEZ </span> </figcaption><img src="https://desiforce.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/c66e2f91c1a7aacc218b056d351eee60fca955fe.jpg" width="768" height="511"><figcaption>The deportation of Jews is still a sensitive subject in France <span>Copyright AFP ALAIN JOCARD</span> </figcaption></figure>