National Front leader Marine LePen is said to have closed the gap with the incumbent Emmanuel Macron as campaigning for Sunday's presidential elections closed.
There are 12 candidates running but a runoff between Macron and LePen on April 24 seems inevitable. A recent Ifop poll showed a tight race, which Macron would win with 52% of the votes against Le Pen's 48%.
Macron regretted his involvement in international affairs, notably the international crisis over Russia's invasion of Ukraine, had led to him joining the campaign later than other candidates. Campaigning ended officially Friday at midnight.
Sunday's polls come as the war in Ukraine and its repercussions direct impact the daily lives of French voters amid a surge in energy and food prices. They also come against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Macron is still the favorite, with around 27% of voting intentions in the first round, followed by Le Pen (23,5%) and Jean-Luc MÈlenchon (17,5%).
The current president wants to tie pensions to inflation from this summer, while reaffirming that his controversial reform plan should be accomplished in the fall. He also pointed out his objective was to consolidate our lead, to prevent her [Marine Le Pen] from coming out ahead in the first round.
One official from within Macron's re-election team has been quoted as saying that if she were elected, Marine Le Pen ... would have to manage a war and a major crisis, adding her economic plan would be tantamount to fiscal bludgeoning.
With the far-right LePen as radical as ever on migration and institutional fronts, a rematch of the 2017 runoff is expected to be very aggressive.
Le Pen aims to lure mobilize a largely working-class electorate as the threat of mass abstention looms, while the far-left Mélenchon has been on the rise in voting intentions and still hopes to make it to the second round.
So it is a fact that I entered [the campaign] even later than I wished. Despite his slip in the polls, Macron said he retained a spirit of conquest rather than of defeat.
Macron made a final attempt on Friday to challenge Le Pen, telling Le Parisien daily that her social program would be bad for business. Her program will create massive unemployment because it will drive international investors away and it will not hold up budget-wise, he said. Her fundamentals have not changed: it's a racist program that aims to divide society and is very brutal. Macron added that Le Pen's camp had a clear strategy to hide what is brutal in her program.
Le Pen told Franceinfo that she was shocked at Macron's accusation of racism, which she rejected, saying her program aimed at putting the rights of French people first, regardless of their origin. The leader of the National Rally, formerly the National Front founded by her father Jean-Marine Le Pen, has focused her campaign on purchasing power, successfully softening her image and tapping into voters' main concerns by promising to cut taxes.
Macron insisted she was lying to people, slamming her campaign pledges as empty promises that she would not be able to finance and that would send investors fleeing, resulting in mass unemployment.