French right struggles in Presidential debates under fire from insurgent left


May French elections expected to act as another proving ground for European stability in the face of far right

THE FIRST major debates of the French Presidential election have seen left and centre candidates place far-right leader Marine Le Pen under the spotlight on xenophobic policies and accusations of corruption.

Struggling centre right candidate Francois Fillon also took blows over alleged corruption which has marred his campaign, as the hard left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon soared in some polls to third place.

Last night’s debate saw 11 candidates for the French Presidency battle it out, following a debate among the five main contenders on Monday 20 March.

Attacking Fillon’s plans for individual companies to have the right to negotiate working conditions, breaking-up some nationwide regulation, Mélenchon said: “I totally disagree with what Mr Fillon just said. It’s out of the question to have one labour code per company, any more than one traffic code per street.”

Philippe Poutou, a factory worker and the Presidential candidate for the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA), also lashed out at Fillon over allegations he paid family members through public funds.

He said: “Since January it’s just been a great campaign…the more we dig, the more corruption there is, the more cheating there is.” 

Opinion: Mélenchon’s French left populism could be the surprise story of 2017

An innovative campaign and strong performances in debates by Mélenchon has seen his campaign surge in recent weeks. On 3 April a Terrain Poll placed Mélenchon, who is backed by the leftwing Unsubmissive France movement,  at 20 per cent, Le Pen on 24 per cent and centrist Emanuel Macron leading on 25 per cent. Fillon languished at 16 per cent.

Twenty-five per cent polled after the second debate found Mélenchon the most convincing candidate on 25 per cent, ahead of Macron on 21 per cent.

Le Pen, one of whose flagship policies is exit from the Euro and ultimately from the EU, performed poorly, with only 11 per cent finding her most convincing.

Le Pen is the leader of the far-right National Front, which also pushes anti-immigrant and Islamophobia policies.

Mocking Le Pen’s policies for stricter controls on migration and a ban on religious dress in public in the first debate Mélenchon said: “You can’t establish a clothes police in the streets, where do you think you are going with this? Are you going to stop people having green hair or wearing their skirts too short or too long?

“A limit on illegal immigrants you say but what does that mean? How do you count them? You can always dream up quotas, tickets or any measures you like, but some will always get through. So what do you do then, throw them into the sea?”

The first round of the presidential election will take place on 23 April. It will eliminate all but two contenders who will go forward to the second round on 7 May.

The Presidential election will be followed by legislative elections in June.

Picture courtesy of Cancillería del Ecuador

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