The plot thickens and the gap narrows. Three events of the weekend show that this election is evolving into a real cliff hanger, the outcome of which will not be known before 8pm. on April 23. Maybe even later that evening if the scores are very close.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon is clearly making an increasing impact on voters At an open air meeting in front of thousands of supporters on the old port in Marseille, he chose not to focus on his economic programme, which is not, it must be noted, dissimilar to that of Marine Le Pen, but praised the diversity of French society, expressed sincere sorrow over the deaths of thousands of migrants in the Mediterranean and launched into an almost mystical passage about war and peace: “If you want peace, make no mistake in your vote” (“si vous voulez la paix, ne vous trompez pas de bulletin de vote”), a clear reference to the U.S strikes in Syria. Interviewed afterwards, a few people who had attended confessed that Mélenchon had impressed them and that they had now decided to vote for him, after voting for the right-wing candidate at the last presidential election. Which seems to show that part of the anti-establishment protest vote may indeed to be drifting away from Marine le Pen and towards Mélenchon (cf: my “What’s next" post of last week).
Especially as Marine le Pen has seriously blotted the copybook she has been trying desperately, and reasonably successfully, to keep clean in the past few years. Asked in a radio interview about her views on France’s role in the round-up and deportation of 13 000 Jews in Paris in July1942, she made it clear that for her, "France is not responsible" ("La France n’est pas responsable" ). This unambiguous statement not only opens up old wounds caused by France’s attitudes and policies during the occupation, wounds that Jacques Chirac’s official admission of French guilt back in 1995 was intended to heal, but is also a sinister reminder of Le Pen’s father’s anti-Semitic and fascist leanings that were the stock-in-trade of the Front National until she set out to sanitise them.
Finally, in Paris on Sunday, François Fillon held a well-attended meeting of fervent supporters and clearly feels that his star is rising again. “I don’t ask you to like me” he said rather curiously, "I ask you to vote for me in the interests of France". (Je ne vous demande pas de m’aimer. Je vous demande de me soutenir, parce qu’il y va de l’intérêt de la France".)
An event that prompted Le Monde in today’s edition to concede that "Francois Fillon is still in with a chance" ("François Fillon peut encore y croire").
Polling day is in just 2 weeks. With Mélenchon and Fillon up in the polls, Le Pen down and Macron stable, it is becoming increasingly difficult for pollsters to predict the outcome of the first round of voting, let alone the final result.
Voters, thankfully, will have the last word.