French presidential candidates make final push for votes

The four top candidates courted undecided voters as campaigning for France's most unpredictable presidential election entered its final week.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Some observers predict that if far-right leader Marine Le Pen becomes president it could strike a mortal blow to the EU, already weakened by Brexit.

The two frontrunners in the French presidential election, far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron, staged rival rallies in Paris on Monday, seeking to stay ahead in a tightening race just days before the vote.

The unpredictable race has narrowed dramatically, with surveys suggesting four candidates are in contention to win one of the top two spots in the vote next Sunday and progress to the run-off a fortnight later.

Scandal-hit conservative Francois Fillon and radical leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon are steaming up behind the two frontrunners, and with around one in four of the electorate still undecided, candidates are scrapping for every vote.

Macron and Le Pen, who have both scored as high as 25 percent in voter surveys, stood at 23 percent and 22.5 percent respectively in the latest Ifop poll updated daily, while Melenchon has surged to 19.5 percent, equal with Fillon.

Macron held his biggest rally yet, packing France's Bercy national indoor arena to its 20,000 capacity and delivering an upbeat speech that focused on his vision of France in five years' time.

"We are going to turn the page on the last 20 years because our generation is ready for change," he told a crowd who chanted: "We're going to win."

Macron planned his biggest rally yet at the Bercy sports and concert hall, a venue with a capacity of 20,000. Source: AFP

'We need the EU'

The 39-year-old former banker and economy minister gave a strong defence of the European Union in the face of attacks from Le Pen, who wants to withdraw from the bloc.

"We need Europe, so we will remake it!," Macron told the crowd. "I will be the president of the awakening of our European ambitions."

His European Union would be "less bureaucratic" and would protect both "industrial and agricultural interests", he vowed.

In a reference to Le Pen, Macron said French voters had the choice of "hope and courage over resignation".

The fast-growing score of Communist-backed Melenchon -- and the possibility he could square off against Le Pen in the May 7 decider -- has sparked alarm over the future of the EU as both advocate leaving the bloc.

Some observers predict that if Le Pen becomes president it could strike a mortal blow to the EU, already weakened by Brexit. 

Le Pen, meanwhile, held her own rally at the 6,000-capacity Zenith concert hall in northeast Paris.

She said the vote was a choice between her rivals' "savage globalisation" and her patriotism.

"The choice on Sunday is simple: It is a choice between a France that is rising again and a France that is sinking. Give us France back, for God's sake," she said.

Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon sailed through northeast Paris, making stops along the way to meet and greet supporters. Source: AFP

'Fire of rebellion'

Melenchon, 65, chose the quirkiest campaign event of the day, sailing through northeast Paris on a barge, making stops along the way to meet and greet supporters.

Addressing supporters from the boat-deck, the leftist railed against the "fear mongering" of his rivals and the media about his big-spending programme and sympathies for the leaders of nations like Cuba and Venezuela.

"They make up things about us on a daily basis," he complained. "Keep the fire of rebellion burning inside you," he urged.

For his part Fillon, dogged by a fake jobs scandal that has seen him charged with abuse of public funds, said he was confident he would upend the polls.

"I can see things clearly. I am absolutely sure I'll be in the second round because there is a strong desire for change in our country and I am the only one proposing serious and reasonable change," the 63-year-old told reporters in the southern city of Nice before giving a speech to supporters.

Fillon, who led the race for weeks before the accusations that his wife Penelope earned nearly 700,000 euros ($725,000) from a fictional job as his parliamentary aide, spent Easter weekend wooing his Catholic and conservative base.

TRT World's Anelise Borges has this report on the upcoming elections.