PARIS, 16 APRIL (Reuters) – Thousands of anti-far-right demonstrators marched throughout France Election on Saturday, as opponents of presidential candidate Marine Le Pen sought to unify in order to prevent her from winning an election runoff against incumbent Emmanuel Macron on April 24.
Police have issued a warning about potential disturbances as demonstrators gather in more than 30 towns.
Macron, a pro-European Union moderate, won the presidency in 2017 after convincingly defeating Le Pen in a runoff vote to keep her far-right party out of power.
Last Sunday’s first round of voting set up a similar contest this year, but Macron faces a considerably tougher challenge.
Thousands of protestors gathered in central Paris, screaming anti-far-right slogans and warned of democratic upheaval if Le Pen won. According to one banner: “Against the extreme right. Not Le Pen at the Elysee, but for justice and equality “referring to the official house of the French president
“If the far-right gains power, we will see a massive collapse of the democratic, anti-racism, and progressive camps,” Dominique Sopo, president of SOS Racism, which called for the rallies alongside dozens of rights groups, unions, and associations, told Reuters.
“People must understand that, despite their dissatisfaction with Emmanuel Macron and his views, there is no equivalent between a liberal, conservative candidate and a far-right contender.”
Macron, who will address a rally in Marseille later in the day to persuade left-wing voters to vote for him on April 24, is marginally ahead in polls.
However, previous to the first round of voting on April 10, Le Pen skillfully exploited resentment over rising living costs and a view that Macron is detached from everyday struggles. She received 23.1 percent of the vote, compared to 27.85 percent for Macron.
She has been increasingly agitated this week, as attention has shifted to her manifesto and opinion surveys show Macron extending his lead. According to an IPSOS-Sopra-Steria poll released on Friday, the president received 56% of the vote in the runoff.
Former Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande have backed him Hollande. Hundreds of celebrities and sporting figures have also endorsed him to block Le Pen coming to power.
PROTESTS THAT ARE COMPLETELY UNDEMOCRATIC
Le Pen, who is anti-immigrant and anti-European Union, has worked hard in recent years to soften her image and that of her National Rally party. Opponents, notably Macron, have accused Le Pen’s campaign of being full of lies and false promises, which she has denied.
During a campaign trip in southern France, Le Pen told reporters that the planned protests were undemocratic.
“The establishment is concerned,” she explained. “The fact that people are protesting election results is extremely undemocratic. I tell all of these individuals to go vote. That’s all there is to it.”
With the electorate divided and indecisive, the election will most likely be won by the candidate who can convince people that the other candidate is not in their side option would be far worse.
For decades, a “republican front” of people of all stripes rallying behind a moderate candidate has kept the radical right out of power.
But Macron, whose often abrasive style and right-wing ideas have irritated many people, can no longer rely on that support.
One sign in Paris read: “Neither Le Pen, nor Macron,” emphasising how choosing Macron is not a simple decision for some voters.
Climate change activists from Extinction Rebellion had previously forced the closing of a major square and road in the city to protest both candidates’ environmental policies.
“This election gives us no option between a far-right candidate with abhorrent ideals… and a candidate who set aside the ecology issue and lied for five years,” Lou, 26, a history teacher who joined the Extinction Rebellion movement two years ago, told Reuters.