French election: Macron faces 12 contenders as race begins
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French President Emmanuel Macron has urged French voters to go to the polls this weekend to vote in the first round of the country’s elections. The polls assert that Mr Macron is favourite to win the first round, but his lead over far-right rival Marine Le Pen has shrunk in recent days. Speaking on French morning radio, the president said he was surprised by the increasing tendency of people to ask what point there was in voting. He told France Inter: “Is it useful? Yes. If I hadn’t had a real mandate five years ago I couldn’t have done what I have done. Only the vote gives that legitimacy.
“Many people sign up to causes, petitions, movements … but don’t necessarily vote.
“Causes are important … but the profound changes we can make to society come when we vote.”
Mr Macron has become an increasingly polarising figure during his time as French president.
In late 2018, the Yellow Vest (Gilets Jaune) protests started in France calling for economic justice.
Those who took part in the protests still rally against the economic reality in France, and one figure from the movement recently spoke to France 24 about the upcoming election.
Jérôme Batret, a farmer from rural Auvergne, told the news outlet last week: “He didn’t respect the people back then and he doesn’t respect them now.
“We have a president who wants to piss off his own people – and yet he’ll win again.”
Mr Batret says his spending power has plummeted during Macron’s five years in office – a turbulent term marked by the coronavirus pandemic and now the fallout from the war in Ukraine.
Surging energy prices mean most of his earnings are now swallowed up by the fuel he needs to run his car and tractor, and to heat his house.
He added: “People in Paris tell me it’s not so bad for them, but out here in the countryside we’ve got no choice.
“My sons work 35 kilometres from home. That’s 400 euros per month in petrol just to get to work.
“Politicians in Paris don’t give a shit about us.
“They make empty promises come election time and then leave us to rot. They have no respect for the people.”
Mr Batret also explained how more and more people in France are being swayed by extremist candidates.
Ms Le Pen of the National Assembly is once again challenging Macron, but a new face of the far right – Eric Zemmour – is also vying for the presidency.
Mr Batret added: “On April 24 they’ll be telling us to back Macron as the lesser evil, but I don’t think he is.
“If it’s Macron versus Le Pen again, I’ll vote Le Pen. And if it’s Zemmour, I’ll leave the country.”
During his radio interview this morning, Mr Macron admitted he has failed to stop people from leaning towards extremist candidates.
He said: “I didn’t succeed in convincing people that the extreme right is not the answer.”
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The president also reiterated his determination to reform the country’s pension system, a proposal that sparked more than a month of strikes in France in 2019-2020, the worst industrial action to hit the country since the previous attempt to reform pensions in 2010.
If re-elected, he said he would raise the retirement age from 62 to 65 apart from a few special exceptions and introduce a minimum pension of €1,100 (about £925) a month that would be index linked.
He added: “I want to defend the system in which those in work pay the pensions of the retired. I want to defend this system, but we cannot carry on as things are.
“The system is in the red. Those on low pensions are struggling.
“All those who tell you we can keep pensions as they are today are lying.
“Today on average, people don’t stop working at 62, they carry on until 63.5 years. And several million of our citizens – many of them women doing tough jobs – work until 67. There’s a kind of hypocrisy about this.”
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