Macron, Le Pen face off in high stakes election debate

  • Discussion kicks off at 1900 GMT
  • Macron, Le Pen in tight race to win election
  • France votes on Sunday

PARIS, April 20 (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron and far-right challenger Marine Le Pen will face off on Wednesday evening in a debate that could be decisive in Sunday’s presidential election.

For Le Pen, who lags Macron in voter surveys, it is a chance to show she has the stature to be president and persuade voters they should not fear seeing the far-right in power.

“Fear is the only argument that the current president has to try and stay in power at all cost,” she said in a campaign clip, accusing Macron of doom-mongering over what a far-right presidency would mean for France.

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For Macron, possibly the biggest challenge to keeping his growing lead in opinion polls will be to not sound arrogant – something many voters have criticized him for – while poking at the holes he sees in Le Pen’s policy plans.

Such debates have typically been widely-watched and past memorable catchphrases are still quoted decades later.

“I’m keen to see what happens,” voter Joseph Lombard said in Paris. “It’s always a boxing match.”

But sources on both sides said they wanted a calm debate – so much so that a source close to Macron, aware of the debate preparations, said it could be “boring”.

“The president must show he is solid… without sounding arrogant,” the source said. “He will be very serious, and she must also show she is solid on the substance.”

A source close to Le Pen said she wanted “a calm debate, project vs. project.”


If the two-and-a-half hour debate does pan out that way, it will be very different from the 2017 encounter, when Le Pen’s presidential challenge unraveled as she mixed up her notes and lost her footing.

The prime-time debate on that occasion cemented Macron’s status as the clear front-runner.

But Macron is no longer the disruptor from outside politics and now has a track record that Le Pen can attack. Meanwhile, she has tacked towards mainstream voters and worked hard at softening her image of her.

“The French now see her as a possible president, unlike in 2017. It’s now up to us to prove she would be a bad president,” another source close to Macron said.

Financial markets are more sanguine about the election than they were five years ago and the odds offered by British political bookmakers on Wednesday pointed to a 90% chance of a Macron victory. read more

Nonetheless, Emmanuel Cau, head of European equity strategy at Barclays, warned against complacency among investors.

“A late shift cannot be discounted given the high number of undecided voters,” he wrote in a note.


The election presents voters with two opposing visions of France: Macron offers a pro-European, liberal platform, while Le Pen’s nationalist manifesto is founded on deep euroscepticism.

After more than half of the electorate voted for far-right or hard left candidates in the first round, Macron’s lead in opinion polls is narrower than five years ago. One voter survey on Tuesday projected he would win with 56.5% of the vote.

Moreover, Le Pen can only do better than in the 2017 debate, which she herself called a failure, while it could be hard for Macron to repeat such a knock-out performance.

But Macron is not without assets for this debate.

With far-right pundit Eric Zemmour now out of the game, Le Pen lost a rival who made her look less radical, by comparison, and that has hit her in opinion polls.

Unemployment is at a 13-year low and the French economy has outperformed other big European countries – even if inflation is biting into that.

And while she has largely managed so far to brush it aside, Le Pen has her past admiration of Russian President Vladimir Putin working against her.

Bringing the issue back to the fore, jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny urged French voters to back Macron because of Le Pen’s ties with Moscow. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy meanwhile told BFM TV that he would not want to lose the rapport he had built with Macron.

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Reporting by Michel Rose and Elizabeth Pineau; Additional reporting by Lucien Libert and Julien Ponthus; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Richard Lough and Alex Richardson

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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