By Tassilo Hummel and Ingrid Melander
PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron and his challenger Marine Le Pen will be back on the campaign trail on Thursday after the far-right candidate failed in a high-stakes televised debate to carry the knockout blow she needed ahead of Sunday’s vote.
Viewers of the only debate between the two final candidates on Wednesday evening deemed a combative Macron arrogant but also found him more convincing and fit to be president, according to an Elabe poll for BFM TV.
Le Pen, who has focused on expressing empathy with people she said has “suffered” since Macron’s election in 2017, was seen as slightly more in tune with voters’ concerns, but his far-right views were still seen as far more worrisome, according to the poll.
With pre-debate polls showing Macron leading in voting intentions for Sunday’s run-off with around 55-56% of the vote, it was not good news for Le Pen, who came second to Macron in the vote. of the 2017 presidential election.
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“Did she give the impression that she was ready to govern? That’s the only question that matters,” the widely read Le Parisien said in an editorial on Thursday. “Judging by the debate, she hasn’t dispelled that doubt.”
For the conservative Le Figaro, the debate would not have changed the minds of voters.
Macron will campaign on Thursday in the Paris suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis – a key target for the two candidates who voted overwhelmingly for far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round.
Le Pen will travel to northern France, with an evening rally in Arras, a city that voted slightly more for Macron in a region that is otherwise a far-right stronghold.
It’s unclear whether the final two days of campaigning will change the votes.
But Macron’s lead in the opinion polls, while growing, is much smaller than five years ago, when he beat Le Pen with 66.1% of the vote.
“While Macron’s lead of around 10 points in the polls is well ahead of any imaginable margin of error, recent history is littered with shock election results, so it would be naïve to think that Le Pen cannot not pull off a surprise win,” said Dean Turner. , Chief Eurozone and UK Economist at the Chief Investment Office of UBS Global Wealth Management.
Investors’ premium demand to hold French bonds relative to their German equivalent was largely flat on Thursday after the debate, suggesting they are optimistic about the likely outcome of Sunday’s vote.
But with some degree of risk taken into account, a victory for Macron could lead to a modest rebound in French assets and the euro, Turner said in a note.
Supporters of both candidates were on the offensive Thursday, trying to win the narrative over how the debate unfolded.
“Marine Le Pen is in real life, Macron is in the McKinsey cosmos,” tweeted National Rally spokesman Julien Odoul, referring to the consulting firm whose use by the government has been heavily criticized by the EU. opposition.
On Macron’s side, ministers hammered home one of Macron’s strongest lines of attack in the debate – Le Pen’s past admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and the loan she took from a Russian bank for its 2017 campaign.
“When you owe money, you can’t be free,” Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told CNews.
In a sign of uncertainty over the election outcome, just 15.5 million people watched the debate on Wednesday, the smallest audience ever for such an event. Pollsters said the second round could see record abstentions and blank ballots cast.
Whoever wins on Sunday will only have done so after a bitter and divisive campaign, which could bode ill for his ability to win a parliamentary majority in June and implement reforms.
If Macron wins, as the polls predict, he could face a tough second term, with little or no grace period and voters of all stripes likely to take to the streets again for his plan to continue his favorable reforms. to businesses.
If Le Pen wins, drastic changes in France’s domestic and international policies would be expected and street protests could begin immediately.
(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel, Dominique Vidalon; Additional reporting by Leigh Thomas, Marc Angrand; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Catherine Evans)
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