La Gaceta De Mexico - Macron calls for 'mobilisation' at first rally as French polls tighten

Macron calls for 'mobilisation' at first rally as French polls tighten
Macron calls for 'mobilisation' at first rally as French polls tighten

Macron calls for 'mobilisation' at first rally as French polls tighten

French President Emmanuel Macron called on tens of thousands of cheering but increasingly nervous supporters to help him win a second term as he held his first election campaign rally on Saturday just a week from the start of voting.

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According to polls, far-right rival Marine Le Pen is gathering momentum and threatening what once seemed an almost unassailable position of strength for Macron, a pro-business centrist elected in 2017.

"The mobilisation is now, the battle is now!" was how Macron concluded a two-and-a-half hour speech at a stadium west of the capital. "I don't want either arrogance or defeatism, I want a general mobilisation.

He cast the election as a fight between his camp in the political mainstream and far-right "extremists", calling it "a battle between progress and turning back, a battle between patriotism and Europe, and nationalism."

In keeping with claims that the rally would be modelled on sports events, the 44-year-old entered the room to pumping music and fireworks before taking to a stage set up like a boxing ring in the middle of the floor.

For most of his speech, he dwelt on what he saw as his biggest achievements in office -- lower unemployment and taxes, higher spending for security -- and his plans for a second five-year term.

But the conclusion saw him turn his fire on anti-immigration Le Pen and far-right former TV pundit Eric Zemmour -- without ever naming them.

"The danger of extremism has reached new heights because in recent months and years, hatred, alternative truths have been normalised. We've got used to it," he warned.

- Slow campaign -

Two new polls published Saturday suggested Macron and Le Pen would finish top in the first round of voting on April 10, with Macron triumphing in the run-off on April 24 by 53-47 percent.

"Look at what happened with Brexit, and so many other elections: what looked improbable actually happened," Macron warned, referring to Britain's shock decision to leave the EU in 2016 that most pollsters failed to foresee.

"I tell you here tonight with a lot of certainty: nothing is impossible," he added.

Among those in the crowd, a mix of all ages mostly drawn from France's professional and educated classes, most expressed confidence that Macron would prevail despite the final-week dynamic in favour of Le Pen.

But the increasingly thin projected margin of victory has increased the pressure on the head of state, with his aides promising several stops around the country next week.

He has barely campaigned so far, instead focusing on diplomatic efforts to end the war in Ukraine, while Le Pen has been pacing the country promising measures to help low-income households.

"His campaign has been a bit weak. It started a bit late," said Paul Reynaud, who was wearing a Macron t-shirt with his slogan "With You" written on it at Saturday's event.

"He's played the president a bit too much and not enough the candidate," added the 23-year-old, who said he was doing an internship at a management consultancy.

He mentioned his employer with am embarrassed smile, acknowledging the problems caused by management consultants for the president over the last fortnight.

Macron's opponents have been attacking him relentlessly on the basis of record spending on consultants such as McKinsey during his five-year term, which was revealed in an investigation by the Senate last month.

- Le Pen optimism -

Le Pen, who lost to Macron in the 2017 polls run-off, has sought to project a more moderate image this election and has been helped by the emergence of Zemmour as a fellow candidate on the far-right.

While Zemmour risks taking votes from Le Pen in the first round, his more radical stances on immigration and Islam have helped her appear more mainstream, experts say.

"We feel it on the ground, there is a great dynamic, a hope that is emerging as the campaign nears it end," she said on a visit to eastern France Friday.

The left's main hope is former Trotskyist Jean-Luc Melenchon who most polls suggest will finish third on current trends.

The hard-left leader, known as a canny campaigner and strong speaker, will address an open air meeting in the southern French city of Toulouse on Sunday.

The first round risks being a disaster for France's two traditional parties of government, the right-wing Republicans and the left-wing Socialists.