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'More of a threat' BBC's Katya Adler pinpoints major challenge set to rock Macron

News'More of a threat' BBC's Katya Adler pinpoints major challenge set to rock Macron

President Macron cleared a major hurdle on the path to re-election with a combative TV debate performance against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen that convinced many viewers. Ms Le Pen came across more polished and composed than in a TV duel for the presidency in 2017 – but Mr Macron went on the offensive over her ties to Russian leadership, her plans for the economy and her policy for the European Union.

With the deciding vote just four days away, some 59 percent of viewers found Mr Macron to have been the most convincing in the debate, according to a snap poll for BFM TV. This suggested the almost three-hour showdown would not alter the course of the election, with Mr Macron ahead in all previous polls.

Voter surveys have shown a widening of Mr Macron’s lead over Ms Le Pen to as much as 56 percent- 44 percent since the first round on April 10, and analysts said the debate was unlikely to swing voting intentions in Ms Le Pen’s favour.

“Yes, Emmanuel Macron won but his adversary has avoided a repeat of last time’s disaster,” Gerard Araud, a former French ambassador said on Twitter. “This debate doesn’t disqualify her like the one in 2017, but it doesn’t help her close the gap either.”

Still, during the debate Macron failed to dispel a perceived arrogance that has taken root during his presidency. He interrupted his rival repeatedly with lines like “Mrs Le Pen is much more disciplined than five years ago”, and “Stop mixing everything up”.

“Mr Macron, stop lecturing me,” Ms Le Pen responded. By contrast, she adopted a much more courteous and softer tone than in 2017, even going so far as to applaud Mr Macron’s diplomatic efforts to prevent war in Ukraine.

An Elabe snap opinion poll on each candidate’s personal characteristics showed 50 percent of the French thought Mr Macron had come across as arrogant during the debate, while only 16 percent thought Ms Le Pen had.

According the BBC’s Katya Adler, this could pose “more of a threat” to Mr Macron than Ms Le Pen herself.

She said: “Last night’s much anticipated Big Head to Head debate between presidential hopefuls Macron and Le Pen will likely fail to dramatically affect the outcome of Sunday’s vote.

“Le Pen was smoother, calmer, better prepared than 2017. Macron attacked skilfully.

“Fifty nine percent of those asked in France’s BFMTV poll thought Macron came out on top. Half of them thought he was the most arrogant of the two.

“An image he’s trying to fight in order to woo floating or apathetic voters.

“They arguably pose more of a threat to him on Sunday than Marine Le Pen herself.

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“Polls are still tight enough that a victory by outsider Le Pen can’t be ruled out as a possibility. She’s closer to power than she’s ever been in the past.

“Thanks, in part to the strong dislike many French voters have developed for Macron over his five years as President.

“NB Key after Sunday‘s vote will be parliamentary elections in June. They will heavily influence effectiveness of the President.

“This does not mean the debate itself is necessarily changing voting patterns. Last night was a far cry from the 2017 debate disaster for Le Pen.”

Ms Le Pen also appeared marginally more in tune with regular citizens, with 37 percent of viewers saying she sounded closer to people’s concerns, while only 34 percent thought Macron did.

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She also delivered a memorable punchline, which may resonate with left-wing and younger voters who think Mr Macron has not done enough to combat climate change, despite his early-mandate slogan “Make our planet great again”.

“I am not a climate sceptic, but you’re a bit of a climate hypocrite,” Ms Le Pen accused.

But Mr Macron’s mastery of policy details made him look more “presidential”, the same Elabe poll showed, while Ms Le Pen failed to convince a majority of viewers she was fit to govern.

“Each of them has a huge weakness,” Bernard Sananes of pollster Elabe said. “Emmanuel Macron is considered arrogant by more than one in two viewers. And Marine Le Pen remains scary for half of them.”

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