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French election: Le Pen says she reflects popular anger, Macron says she exploits it

LiveMint logoLiveMint 05-05-2017 AP

Paris: French far-right leader Marine Le Pen acknowledged on Friday that she was angry during this week’s presidential debate against her centrist rival, but said she was merely channelling the anger she sees throughout the country.

Emmanuel Macron countered that she was exploiting anger and insecurity—not reflecting it.

In the last day of campaigning before Sunday’s presidential vote, the two candidates offered a starkly different future for France.

Le Pen wants to pull France out of the European Union and abandon the euro currency, although she has softened that view somewhat in recent days.

Macron, a former banker and economy minister who advocates for the entrepreneurial spirit, usually appears with both French and EU flags in the background.

During the only debate between the two, Macron mostly kept his calm during testy exchanges while Le Pen was more aggressive from the outset. Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the National Front party his daughter now leads (but who also frequently criticizes her), has said he thought she was “not up to the task”.

But Marine Le Pen said her strong emotions were well-founded.

“My words were nothing but the reflection of the anger that will explode in this country,” she said.

She criticized Macron as the candidate of the elite and said the French have had enough of their political and economic situation.

Macron acknowledged that the French are exasperated by the government’s ineffectiveness, but dismissed her vision of an infuriated country.

“Madame Le Pen speaks for no one. Madame Le Pen exploits anger and hatred,” he said.

A concern—particularly for Macron, who founded his own political movement just a year ago—is that left-wing and mainstream voters may simply stay home on Sunday. The two candidates were whittled down from a field of 11 in the first round vote two weeks ago.

On Friday, students protesting both candidates blocked 10 high schools in Paris.

About 100 students pulled garbage bins in front of the entrance to the Lycee Colbert in northeastern Paris, with cardboard signs saying “Neither Le Pen nor Macron, neither the fatherland nor the boss”, in a reference to Le Pen’s nationalist views and Macron’s pro-business ties.

But students at Lycee Buffon wrote an open letter calling on people to exercise their vote and recalled the fate of five students shot in 1943 for fighting the Nazis.

“I’m 15, 16, 17 or 18, I’m a student. Even if I’m not old enough to vote, I’m concerned,” the letter said. “Dear reader, you should know that Marine Le Pen’s France is not the France we love. Our France is beautiful, tolerant and cosmopolite. So go and vote on Sunday, for this France, this democracy.”

Macron echoed their call, saying anyone who accepts modern French democracy must accept the choice in front of them.

“I’m not going to lament our democracy,” he said. “In the second round, you choose the candidate who perhaps was not your first choice.”

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