Journal De Bruxelles - Support for Macron shown rising amid Ukraine war crisis

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Support for Macron shown rising amid Ukraine war crisis
Support for Macron shown rising amid Ukraine war crisis

Support for Macron shown rising amid Ukraine war crisis

A new poll Friday showed a surge in support for French President Emmanuel Macron ahead of presidential elections next month, a day after he confirmed he was running for a second term.

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The survey measuring voting intentions from the BVA polling group found he had gained a massive five points in the last fortnight ahead of the first round of voting on April 10, with voters seemingly impressed by his handling of the Ukraine war crisis.

It suggested Macron would finish first with 29 percent in the first round and would then triumph in a second run-off vote irrespective of his opponent, with far-right candidate Marine Le Pen seen as his closest challenger.

"Emmanuel Macron is benefiting from his triple status as head of state, protector of the people and their values, (and) head of the army and national diplomacy," BVA said in a statement.

Macron confirmed his plans to seek a second term on Thurday evening in a low-key letter addressed to voters, saying he was seeking their "trust" for another five years "to defend our values that are threatened by the disruptions of the world."

He acknowledged that the election campaign would be overshadowed by Russia's war on its neighbour, which has seen him take a prominent role in Western efforts to find a diplomatic solution.

"Of course, I will not be able to campaign as I would have liked because of the context," he said.

Some of his opponents welcomed the declaration, less than 24 hours before a deadline to do so, while others scoffed at it.

"The democratic debate, of one programme versus another that I have been calling for for months, can finally take place," Socialist Party candidate Anne Hidalgo said.

"We might have expected a letter of apology beforehand," Manuel Bompard, the campaign manager of hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, said.

Far-right candidate Eric Zemmour accused him of serving "a term for nothing", adding that "our country has become unlivable and you have become the cause."

- Domestic issues -

A host of recent polling figures have shown a rise in Macron's personal ratings over the last fortnight and a slim majority of French people approve of his handling of the Ukraine crisis.

A poll on Thursday by the Kantar group showed the proportion of voters expressing confidence in him had risen five points to 45 percent, its highest level since August 2017.

The war has also served to weaken some of his opponents such as Le Pen, Zemmour and Melenchon who have all either defended Russian leader Vladimir Putin in the past or promoted their proximity with him.

Antoine Bristielle, a public opinion expert at the Jean-Jaures Foundation, a Paris think-tank, said the Ukraine crisis meant the campaign was focused on "international issues which are an area of strength for Emmanuel Macron.

"It's better for him than social issues or questions around household income," he said.

But many observers are now beginning to fear that the war will eclipse discussion of domestic issues which voters are known to be concerned about, such as crime, unemployment or immigration.

Little is known about the 44-year-old head of state's programme for the next five years, but he promised more tax cuts in his declaration letter, changes to the education system and a further strengthening of the European Union.

"The main risk for Macron is being re-elected relatively easily but without a proper campaign," Bristielle said.

"If the debate is not settled in the ballot box, then it gets settled on the streets."

After his election in 2017, Macron claimed he had a strong mandate to push through major tax and labour market reforms, but opponents openly questioned his legitimacy because of low turn-out and his slim victory margin in the first round.

After a year and half of relatively minor protests, Macron faced a national revolt by so-called "Yellow Vest" protesters in late 2018 who occupied roundabouts across the country and organised often violent demonstrations in the capital and other cities.

Some pollsters predict that abstention rates, which hit a record in 2017, could be even higher in this year's vote on April 10 and 24.

R.Vercruysse--JdB