Live: Macron and Le Pen face off in debate ahead of French presidential run-off

Live: Macron and Le Pen face off in debate ahead of French presidential run-off

Politics

French President Emmanuel Macron and his far-right challenger Marine Le Pen went head-to-head in a bruising televised debate on Wednesday, seeking to sway undecided voters with just days left before the second and final round of the presidential election on Sunday.

Click on the player above to watch the debate or scroll below for our liveblog coverage.

Macron holds a solid lead in polls ahead of the April 24 run-off, but his political allies had warned against complacency ahead of the prime-time duel with Le Pen – their only direct debate of the campaign.

Le Pen had cleared her schedule this week to concentrate on preparing for the face-off, hoping to avoid a repeat of the 2017 debate fiasco that ended her hopes of pulling off an upset win five years ago.

In a reversal of roles, it was Macron who took the gloves off this time, tearing into his opponent over her ties to Russia and for wanting to strip Muslim women of their right to wear headscarves in public.


French presidential election
French presidential election © France 24

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine overshadowing the campaign, Macron repeatedly zeroed in on a loan Le Pen’s party took from a Czech-Russian bank in 2014, arguing that because of this debt her hands would be tied when dealing with the Kremlin.

“You are dependent on the Russian government and you are dependent on Mr Putin,” he said. “When you speak to Russia you are speaking to your banker.”


Le Pen bristled at the suggestion that she was beholden to Moscow, arguing that her party had only taken the loan because French banks refused to lend to her. “I’m an absolutely and totally free woman”, she said.

The clash came just hours after jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny had raised the issue of the loan in a Twitter thread, urging voters to back Macron and alleging that Le Pen is too closely linked to Russia.

‘Civil war’

Ahead of the debate, Le Pen’s camp had insisted that cutaways be strictly limited – mindful of the damaging shots of her rummaging through her notes in 2017.

Still, Macron could be seen adopting a variety of poses to express scepticism at her arguments, repeatedly raising his eyebrows, leaning his chin on his fists and lamenting in apparent bewilderment “Madame Le Pen, Madame Le Pen!”

Line of the French debate (so far): “Madame Le Pen. Madame Le Pen. Madame Le Pen. Vous rigolez ou quoi?” -Emmanuel Macron. #DebatPresidentiel #F24

— Douglas Herbert (@dougf24) April 20, 2022


Aside from Russia, the other explosive clash came when Le Pen confirmed she would ban Muslim women from wearing headscarves in public, describing the veil as a “uniform imposed by Islamists”.

Macron said such a plan contradicted France’s secular rules and would trigger “civil war” in the country that has the largest Muslim population in western Europe. 

>> Infographic: Macron vs Le Pen, world views at odds

Le Pen also vowed to put an end to “anarchic and massive” immigration into France, claiming it was worsening crime.


The far-right candidate sought to appeal to voters struggling with surging prices, portraying herself as the champion of voters unable to make ends meet – though she struggled under the pressure as Macron questioned her grasp of economic figures. 

She said Macron’s presidency had left the country deeply divided, referencing the Yellow Vest protest movement and claiming that France “needs to be stitched back together”.

Advantage macron

Macron is favourite to win the April 24 run-off and become the first French president to win a second term since Jacques Chirac in 2002. A poll by Ipsos-Sopra Steria on Wednesday put his lead at 12 points. 

However, analysts have warned that the result is far from a foregone conclusion, with surveys indicating that over 10 percent of French who intend to cast their ballots have yet to decide who to vote for.

Analysis: Foreign policy is Le Pen’s Achilles heel


© AP

Shortly after the debate, a snap opinion poll by Elabe said 59 percent of viewers found Macron the most convincing, while 39 percent plumped for his challenger.

“Macron on the attack, Le Pen on the defensive,” headlined French daily Le Parisien in its Thursday edition. The front page of left-leaning Libération featured a close-up of Le Pen with the title, “Still not up to the task”, though the paper also branded Macron “arrogant”.

“Such a waste,” tweeted the election’s third man Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who narrowly missed out on a place in the run-off. “The country deserved better”.

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