French election: Spotlight on Macron in TV debate

PARIS • Mr Emmanuel Macron may be discovering the downside of becoming the favourite to win France's presidential election.

In a televised debate scheduled for 9pm on Monday night local time (4am today Singapore time) and featuring the five leading candidates, Mr Macron's standing in the polls, relative lack of experience and centrist positions seemed likely to present a rich seam of pickings for his rivals.

Never before in a French election have five candidates confronted one another directly in a televised debate before the first round of voting.

Multiple polls show that both Mr Macron, a 39-year-old independent, and Ms Marine Le Pen, 48, of the National Front, have the support of about a quarter of voters for the first-round ballot, which is five weeks away. Polls predict that Mr Macron will emerge the easy winner in the run-off two weeks later.

A former economy minister with no established party behind him, Mr Macron is ideologically sandwiched between Republican Francois Fillon, who has the backing of about 19 per cent of voters, and Socialist Benoit Hamon, with about 13 per cent.

Ms Le Pen wants to take France out of the euro zone, raise tariff barriers and reinstate border controls to reduce immigration.

Mr Fillon, whose support has fallen after a graft scandal, wants to increase the retirement age to 65 and cut 500,000 civil service positions. Mr Hamon, by contrast, proposes a universal basic income for everyone.

Mr Macron, in the middle, wants to cut taxes while keeping to European Union deficit targets. He would also deepen European economic cooperation and expand EU involvement in defence and immigration.

On security and immigration matters, Mr Macron faces difficulty, said Mr Bruno Jeanbart, deputy chief of French pollster Opinionway. "If, for economic and society issues, his novelty is seen as appealing, it's rather a deterrent for security matters, where voters want authority and firmness."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2017, with the headline 'French election: Spotlight on Macron in TV debate'. Print Edition | Subscribe