Saturday 24 March 2018

No surge for Le Pen after police murder, says last-minute poll

Front National’s Marine Le Pen Picture: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Front National’s Marine Le Pen Picture: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Henry Samuel

Marine Le Pen failed to secure a last-minute presidential election surge ahead of centrist front-runner Emmanuel Macron in the wake of the Champs-Elysées terror shooting, a last-minute poll suggested yesterday.

As the end neared in the most hotly contested French presidential campaign of modern times - in which corruption, the European Union, joblessness and immigration dominated - there was intense speculation over the political impact of the murder of a policeman on Thursday night by a radicalised Frenchman.

While Front National leader Ms Le Pen gained a modicum of support in the first opinion poll held after the Champs-Elysées attack, Mr Macron was expected to beat her on Sunday's first round, before defeating her in a two-way run-off two weeks later.

The survey appeared to put paid to Donald Trump's claim that the shooting would "probably help" Le Pen. The US president said that he believed the attack would be a boost for the far-right leader because she's the candidate who is "strongest on borders, and she's the strongest on what's been going on in France".

Despite critics' claims that Macron (39), a former economy minister, is too soft to run France in a time of terror, an Odoxa poll still saw him winning the first round with 24.5pc. Ms Le Pen was up one point, but still in second place with 23pc after leading the pack earlier in the race. Scandal-hit conservative François Fillon and Communist-backed Jean-Luc Melenchon were both slightly down, to 19pc, which would eliminate them from the May 7 run-off.

Matthieu Croissandeau, editor of 'Nouvel Obs' magazine, said the French are now thicker-skinned after two years of bloodshed. "The French are unfortunately getting used to terror attacks on home soil and I don't think this latest one created the shock and awe that might have made a significant difference," he said.

Ms Le Pen has struggled to get the campaign to focus on her party's pet issues of security, Islam and immigration. By contrast, she has been thrown on the defensive over her position to pull out of the eurozone.

After the attack, she called on the "notoriously feeble" socialist, President François Hollande, to instantly reinstate border checks and expel foreigners who are on the watch lists of intelligence services. She said: "We cannot afford to lose this war."

But Le Pen was not the only one to issue stern pledges. Mr Fillon, who also talks tough on security, said the fight against "Islamist totalitarianism" should be the next president's priority.

Mr Fillon, though knocked off his initial course towards victory by incessant allegations involving "fake job" payments to his British wife, promised to govern with "an iron fist".

But the moderate Mr Macron, whom other candidates have portrayed as too inexperienced, took a different tack, warning against any attempts to use the shooting for political gain. "I think we must once and for all have a spirit of responsibility at this extreme time and not give in to panic and not allow it to be exploited, which some might try to do," he told French radio.

Ms Le Pen's solutions, he said, were woefully simplistic and "would not protect France". And he added that to promise a "zero risk" scenario "is both irresponsible and deceitful".

He also took a swipe at Mr Fillon, saying that intelligence had been depleted on his watch as the prime minister in Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency.

Meanwhile, Bernard Cazeneuve, the Socialist prime minister, accused Ms Le Pen of "shamelessly seeking to exploit fear and emotion".

Opinion polls have for months forecast that Le Pen would make it through to the run-off, but then lose in the final vote.

Irish Independent

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