Paris (Reuters) – Protests were expected around France on Saturday as opponents of far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen seek to form a united front to prevent her from winning an election runoff against incumbent Emmanuel Macron on April 24.
Police have warned of possible incidents as demonstrators convene in some 30 cities.
Macron, a pro-European Union centrist, won the presidency in 2017 after easily beating Le Pen when voters rallied behind him in the runoff to keep the far right out of power.
This year, the first round of voting last Sunday set up the same battle, but Macron is facing a much tougher challenge.
He is slightly ahead in opinion polls, but prior to the first round on April 10 Le Pen successfully tapped into anger over the cost of living and a perception that Macron is disconnected from everyday hardships. That saw her finish with 23.1% of votes compared to 27.85% for Macron.
However, she has appeared more rattled this week as the focus has turned to her programme and opinion polls have shown Macron extend his lead. An IPSOS-Sopra-Steria poll on Friday showed the president winning the runoff with 56% of votes.
He has won backing from former presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande. Hundreds of celebrities and sporting figures have also endorsed him to block Le Pen coming to power.
Call To Reject Le Pen
Le Pen, whose stance is anti-immigration and eurosceptic, has sought in recent years to soften her image and that of her National Rally party. Opponents, including Macron, have said her programme is full of lies and false promises – an accusation Le Pen has rejected.
“The far right is once again in the second round of the presidential election strengthened by a level of support never seen before. We refuse to see it win power,” the Human Rights League said in a joint statement announcing the protests. Dozens of other rights groups, unions and associations co-signed the call to protest.
Speaking to reporters on a campaign stop in southern France, Le Pen dismissed the planned protests as undemocratic.
“The establishment is worried,” she said. “That people are protesting against election results is deeply undemocratic. I say to all these people just go and vote. It’s as simple as that.”
With the electorate fragmented and undecided, the election will likely be won by the candidate who can reach beyond his or her camp to convince voters that the other option would be far worse.
For decades, a “republican front” of voters of all stripes rallying behind a mainstream candidate has helped to keep the far right out of power.
But Macron, whose sometimes abrasive style and policies that veered to the right have upset many voters, can no longer automatically count on that backing.
Climate change activists from Extinction Rebellion forced the closure of a main square in central Paris on Saturday, protesting the environmental programmes of both candidates.
“This election leaves us no choice between a far-right candidate with repugnant ideas … and a candidate who during five years cast the ecology issue aside and lied,” Lou, 26, a history teacher, who joined the Extinction Rebellion movement two years ago, told Reuters.