France’s two far-right presidential candidates staged back-to-back rallies on Saturday to try and steal each other’s thunder while trying to keep their anti-immigration agenda and nationalist agenda front and centre in the race for April’s presidential election.
Marine Le Pen, second in the 2017 presidential election was hosting her first major campaign event at Reims, Champagne country. After some high-profile departures from Eric Zemmour’s campaign, she presented her platform to thousands and attempted to reenergize her base.
Zemmour is a pundit, provocateur, and has been repeatedly convicted for hate speech. He held a rally in Lille, the northern city, on the same day to try to attract attention to Le Pen. Some protesters clashed with police outside the rally.
Both candidates hope to challenge President Emmanuel Macron in April 10th’s election. There is also a presidential runoff on April 24 between the top two contenders. Macron has his campaign team, but has not yet declared his candidacy. He is a centrist but has moved to the right as a result of growing support for far-right and conservative policies, especially on immigration and security.
Both Zemmour and Le Pen want stricter immigration laws, with less state aid to migrants. Both Le Pen and Zemmour oppose wind farms, but they both want to see more support for nuclear energy. Nuclear energy currently supplies 70% of France’s electricity.
Le Pen is a member in parliament and has worked for 10 years to improve the image of National Rally and to build its political base. This will make it more appealing to a wider range of voters and increase her chances of winning the presidency .
She lashed out at Macron’s “reckless” policies and his immigration management in her speech on Saturday, but she avoided insults for most of the time.
Le Pen stated that “it’s up the French people decide who gets to reside in France and who becomes citizens,” and added that immigrants “must adhere to this country’s values” and not vice versa.
Zemmour, who has no political experience, is well-known for his role on TV as a commentator. This has allowed him spread his extreme views. His program bans women from wearing Muslim headscarves and prohibits the construction of “imposing” mosques or minarets.
Zemmour stayed true to his familiar themes in Saturday’s speech. He said he would “put an end” to asylum applications being filed on French soil and that he would free France from “Islamization.”
Zemmour stated that there were not many factories left in the city but many mosques. “We don’t see many skirts anymore but we do see many niqabs,” Zemmour claimed. Zemmour frequently criticizes Muslims and exaggerates the power and presence of Muslims in France.
Last month, he was convicted of inciting racial hate against minorities. Zemmour was previously convicted of inciting to racial hate after justifying discrimination towards Black and Arab peoples in 2010 and inciting to religious hatred for anti Islam comments in 2016.
Although polls indicate that Macron is the favorite to win a second term in office, the race is unpredictable and close. Le Pen or Valerie Pecresse, a member of the mainstream conservative Republicans party, appear most likely to win a runoff against Macron at this stage.
Zemmour has shaken the race, and rattled Le Pen’s camp. But she lags behind in the polls. The question that remains is whether Marion Marechal, Le Pen’s niece and former lawmaker, will support Zemmour.
The French left is divided in the meantime, with many candidates competing for the presidency, but none expecting to reach the presidential runoff.
Others include Jean-Luc Melenchon (far-left firebrand), Yannick Jadot (Greens candidate), Anne Hidalgo (Socialist Paris Mayor) and Christiane Taubira, former Justice Minister and anti-racism activist.