Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen trade barbs in marathon presidential debate


Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen trade barbs in marathon presidential debate
  1. Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen trade barbs in marathon presidential debate
    theage.com.au
    A snap opinion poll showed Macron, a former economy minister who has never run for public office before, as the most convincing among the top five contenders in a marathon debate of nearly three and a half hours that delivered no…
    Health

Paris: French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron has solidified his status as frontrunner in France's election in a marathon televised debate on Monday when he clashed on immigration and Europe with his main rival, far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

A snap opinion poll showed Macron, a 39-year-old former economy minister who has never run for public office before, was the most convincing among the top five contenders in a marathon debate of nearly 3½ that delivered no knock-outs.

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Candidates from left: conservative Francois Fillon, independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, far-leftist Jean-Luc ... Candidates from left: conservative Francois Fillon, independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, far-leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon, far-rightist Marine Le Pen and Socialist Benoit Hamon pose before the debate. Photo: AP

The debate, and the two others that will follow ahead of the April 23 first round, are seen as key in an election in which nearly 40 per cent of voters say they are not sure who to back. Previous debates for the primaries were watched by up to 8.5 million people.

"You are failing [voters] by twisting the truth," Macron told Le Pen when she talked about a rise of radical Islam in France and said he was in favour of the burkini, a full-body swimsuit worn by some Muslim women that stirred much controversy in France last northern summer.

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Later in the debate, National Front leader Le Pen mocked Macron, saying, of his comments: "It's completely empty. I want to attract the French people's attention to the fact that every time you talk, you say a bit of this, a bit of that, and never decide."

Opinion polls have for weeks shown Le Pen and Macron, an independent centrist who used to be Socialist President Francois Hollande's economy minister, pulling away from the pack in an election full of twists and turns which is taking place against a backdrop of high unemployment and sluggish growth.

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Twenty-nine per cent of viewers thought Macron was the most convincing, ahead of firebrand leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon with 20 per cent, while Le Pen and conservative Francois Fillon were tied in third place, a snap survey conducted online by Elabe pollsters towards the end of the debate showed. Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon came in last.

After the surprise of Britain's Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump in the United States, markets are nervous about the possibility of a Le Pen victory. She is pledging to take France out of the euro zone and hold a referendum on EU membership.

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Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron during the Re-invest France, the first of three televised debates before presidential ... Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron during the Re-invest France, the first of three televised debates before presidential elections next month. Photo: AP

Only the top two candidates go through to the run-off, where polls show Macron easily beating Le Pen.

But with so many voters undecided and polls showing the abstention rate could be higher than ever in France, the level of uncertainty remains high. A high abstention rate could benefit Le Pen as polls consistently show that her supporters are the most certain of their vote.

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Marine Le Pen, left, smiles as Francois Fillon, right, gets his make-up done. Marine Le Pen, left, smiles as Francois Fillon, right, gets his make-up done. Photo: AP

Fillon, a one-time front-runner who has fallen back over by a scandal surrounding the employment of his wife as a parliamentary assistant, has been put under formal investigation, a first for a French presidential candidate.

But the scandal, which has dominated the campaign for weeks, occupied relatively little time in the debate.

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