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4/23/17

France: Tight race for the Elysee Palace - by Bernd Rieger

French voters will be going to the polls this Sunday with the memory of Thursday's deadly attack in Paris still fresh in their minds. All candidates, from left to right, cancelled their final campaign appearances following the incident. They are all calling for police and investigative authorities to be boosted.

The right-wing populist Marine Le Pen accused the Socialist government of having failed in the fight against Islamic terrorism. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve in his turn accused Le Pen of exploiting the terror threat for the purposes of her campaign.

Surveys indicate that, after the fear of economic decline, voters are most worried about security and the threat posed by terrorism. There are no opinion polls recent enough to have measured voter sentiment following the most recent attack, which targeted police officers in the heart of Paris.

The state of emergency imposed in France after the Islamist attacks in Paris in November 2015 is still in force.

The race for France's presidency is wide open. The latest polls predict that four candidates out of the 11 candidates have a realistic chance of advancing to the decisive May 7 runoff. Two candidates, far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron, who founded a new party, have both been touted as favorites for the last several weeks. Some polls give Le Pen a slight edge; others give it to Macron. It is a neck-and-neck race. But far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon and conservative Francois Fillon, the only representative of an established party, also have a decent chance of advancing. The two are just 2 or 3 percentage points behind front-runners Le Pen and Macron. That is well within the margin of error for such polling.

Election researcher Stephane Wahnich warned in a recent DW interview that nothing was certain. "We have many undecided voters in France. About a quarter of all voters have said that they will not decide until election day. That means that we are asking people who they will vote for even though they have yet to make up their minds." Wahnrich complains that France's voting public is no longer stable. "Our society is radically changing. This makes it difficult to come up with reliable projections. When you consider that fact, you have to conclude that opinion polls for this election are completely overrated."

Far-right populist Le Pen lost out in the first round of France's last presidential election in 2012. This time it seems certain that she will advance to the runoff. The ruling Socialist party of departing - and extremely unpopular - President Francois Hollande is playing no role whatsoever in the election. That is also something completely new in French politics. The country's political left is more divided than ever before. On the other hand, the rise of far-left politician Jean-Luc Melenchon, who is especially popular among young French voters for his radical anti-EU slogans and calls for 100 percent taxation on the rich, is rather astonishing. Melenchon utterly rejects globalization and free-trade: "All trade deals that devastate the signatory countries must be stopped."

Read more: Tight race for the Elysee Palace | Europe | DW.COM | 22.04.2017

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