Marine Le Pen blames Macron for dependency on Russian oil
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France heads to the polls on Sunday to vote in the first-round of its presidential elections. A usually massive event, the ballot has been dwarfed by the outbreak of war in Ukraine. The incumbent, Emmanuel Macron, has been largely absent from the campaign trail, busy behind closed doors attempting to broker peace talks and deals with Russian President Vladimir Putin — to no avail.
His far-right rival, Marine Le Pen, face of the National Rally party, has taken the opportunity to fill the void left by him and jumped on France’s cost of living crisis.
She has been seen on the election beat in towns and villages across the country that Mr Macron may have dismissed as impossible seats to win.
While these visits have not garnered much national media attention, according to Mathieu Gallard, research director at polling firm Ipsos, they received a “big echo” in local media outlets — publications and stations vital for influence in smaller localities.
Many suggest that the French people will not want regime change because of the war in Ukraine, an event which has introduced an age of great uncertainty in Europe.
Following Putin’s ordering of troops into Ukraine, Mr Macron’s ratings sky-rocketed to 30 percent, compared to Ms Le Pen’s 18 percent and joint third place challengers Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Éric Zemmour’s 12 percent.
At that point, all other challengers’ ratings had either plateaued or were sinking.
But, as conflict fatigue sets in, Mr Macron’s hold is slipping at the same time that Ms Le Pen’s support is growing.
According to Politico’s Poll of Polls, between March 8 and April 5, his ratings dropped three percent and are currently following a downward trend.
This is compared to Ms Le Pen, whose ratings have soared from 18 to 22 percent and continue to rise.
It is a similar picture in polls across the board, which are suggesting a repeat of Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen’s 2017 stand-off.
JUST IN: Le Pen supported Russia’s Crimea annexation — unearthed 2017 reports
Mr Macron trounced Ms Le Pen five years ago, the latter figure being closely linked to her far-right, anti-immigration father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the National Front.
But in the years since, she has sought to rebrand herself with a softer image, including renaming the National Front the National Rally.
Only on Saturday last weekend did Mr Macron attend his first major campaign event, a concert-style rally where he rolled onto the stage like a prize fighter ready for battle.
But even then, he warned the crowd that defeat to Ms Le Pen was possible.
He said: “Look at what happened with Brexit, and so many other elections: what looked improbable actually happened.”
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Looking to the second-round, assuming that Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen advance, some pollsters have put their pair at a near-tie-breaking 51.5 percent and 48.5 percent respective margin.
Reports suggest that those within Mr Macron’s team fear that the idea of his winning being set in stone may deter voters from heading to the ballot boxes — which could sway the favour in Ms Le Pen’s direction.
The war in Ukraine is not yet a distant memory, however, and unearthed reports of her support for Putin and his annexation of Crimea have thrown a potential spanner in the National Rally’s campaign.
In 2017, in the run-up to the presidential election, she met with Putin in the Kremlin and declared her support for the illegal invasion of Crimea.
Ms Le Pen also said she did not agree with the sanctions that were subsequently slapped on Russia.
She told Putin that if elected she would “envisage lifting the sanctions quite quickly.”
The divisive figure also said that the Kremlin-organised referendum on Crimea status — widely viewed as illegitimate — which found that 95 percent of voters backed plans to join Russia proved that there was no need to oppose Moscow’s actions.
Shady financial transactions between her party have also resurfaced.
Just months after the EU imposed sanctions on Russia in 2014, the National Front borrowed €9million (£7.5million) from a prominent Russian bank.
Some claimed that the loan was a reward for Ms Le Pen’s public support over Crimea, although the true motive will likely never come to light.
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