Macron camp fear high French abstention rate could damage chances

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Paris (AFP) – Fears that a high abstention rate could help French far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in the presidential runoff strengthened Wednesday when two-thirds of far-left supporters said they intend to abstain or cast a blank ballot.

An internal poll of supporters of defeated far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon showed just over 65 percent will spoil their voting papers or stay at home on Sunday.

Only 35 percent said they would support Le Pen’s rival, pro-EU centrist Emmanuel Macron.

Communist-backed Melenchon, who leads the France Insoumise (Unbowed France) movement, scored more than seven million votes as he finished fourth in the election’s first round on April 23.

Just days before the runoff, 39-year-old former investment banker Macron remains the frontrunner, with a poll Tuesday predicting a 19-point lead, putting him on track to become France’s youngest president.

But his camp has warned that a high number of no-shows, especially among left-wing voters, could hurt his chances of victory.

Polls show that 22 to 28 percent of French voters are expected to abstain.

While most left-wing voters are turned off by Le Pen’s anti-immigration and anti-EU policies, many also find it hard to back Macron’s economically liberal approach.

Company bosses, celebrities and scientific researchers have all called for people to rally behind Macron, who styles himself as “neither of the left nor the right”.

The Socialist government said the far-left’s decision to abstain en masse was “an error”.

Spokesman Stephane Le Foll said he could not understand the decision, adding: “The left has traditionally always been in the fight against the National Front.” 

One of the highest-profile endorsements came from former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, an emblematic figure of the European radical left.

Varoufakis said Macron was “the only minister in Europe who did everything possible to help us” during the 2015 debt crisis.

He told Le Monde newspaper that as the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank were putting pressure on Greece over its debt mountain, then-economy minister Macron convinced French President Francois Hollande to reopen negotiations.

He said Macron “offered to come to Athens incognito” for talks, but Hollande stopped him. Macron “was the only member of the ‘system’ who opposed” the harsh stance on Greece, Varoufakis said.

The support is significant because Melenchon is close to current leftist Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a veteran rebel of French politics, called on Melenchon’s supporters to put aside their “hatred” of Macron.

“Think rationally and vote for Emmanuel Macron and defend democracy and freedom,” the former ecologist Euro MP told Europe 1 radio.

It emerged Tuesday that Le Pen had copied parts of her fiery May 1 speech from one made on April 15 by Francois Fillon, the conservative candidate who was eliminated in the first round of the election last month.

In the speech in question in Puy-en-Velay, Fillon spoke of France’s relationship with neighbouring Germany, paid tribute to the French language and spoke of a third “French way” for the 21st century.

Analysis by the Ridicule TV YouTube channel showed that the nationalist Le Pen repeated these passages almost verbatim in her speech on Monday.

Florian Philippot, the vice president of Le Pen’s National Front (FN) party, said it was “not plagiarism”, but “a nod to a short passage in a speech about France”.

Le Pen and Macron will face off Wednesday in what promises to be a fiery TV debate when the far-right leader is likely to sharpen her attacks on a candidate she says embodies “the world of finance, of arrogance, of money as king”.

Macron fought off accusations Tuesday from Le Pen that he was controlled by banks.

“I am not under the thumb of the banks. If I were, I would have continued to work for them,” he told BFMTV news channel on Tuesday.

Macron said he had received similar insults from the far left and far right for months, “but I’ll look them straight in the eye and say I don’t have any lessons to learn from them”.

    <figure><figcaption>It has emerged that Le Pen copied parts of a speech she made Monday from one made about two weeks earlier by one-time conservative candidate Francois Fillon
        <span>Copyright AFP Valery HACHE</span>
      </figcaption><img src="https://desiforce.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/f70502627c0a144081b15942dfaad6f50e07908f-2.jpg" width="768" height="512"><figcaption>Emmanuel Macron is favourite to become France's youngest ever presidents
        <span>Copyright POOL/AFP Eric FEFERBERG</span>
      </figcaption><img src="https://desiforce.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/a4fdf4f7d60ee59eaf03485ef59f9c2c659e7913-2.jpg" width="768" height="479"><figcaption>Polls have tightened in recent months
        <span>Copyright AFP Jules BONNARD, Sophie RAMIS</span>
      </figcaption></figure>