Far Right Threat Looms in France as Macron Faces Marine Le Pen in Runoff

French President Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen are headed to a runoff on April 24 after winning the most votes in France’s first round of presidential elections on Sunday. We speak with Rokhaya Diallo, French journalist and writer, who says France’s political landscape is now dominated by three parties — the far-right, the liberal right and the left, led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who urged his supporters to not vote for Le Pen in the following election. Diallo also explains how Le Pen — who ran against Macron in the last presidential election — has since softened her xenophobic rhetoric. “She has hidden in a way the real agenda of the National Rally, which is explicitly anti-immigrant, xenophobic and also sexist,” says Diallo.

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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

On April 24, Macron and Marine Le Pen, the far right candidate, are heading to a runoff election. Macron won 27% support in Saturday’s first round. Le Pen was second with 23%. Macron urged French voters to reject Le Pen’s xenophobic policies.

PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: [translated]I solemnly invite my fellow citizens to join me, regardless of their political leanings or the decision they made in the first round. … At this turning point for the future of our nation, nothing will ever be the same. This is why I am reaching out to all those who are interested in working for France. I am open to creating something new to bring together different convictions, leanings, and build a united action for our nation in the future. It is our responsibility.

AMY GOODMAN: Le Pen, however, urged French citizens of all political parties to vote for her in the runoff that will take place later this month.

MARINE LE PEN: [translated] From this moment, I’m calling on all French, from all sides, from the right or left or elsewhere, French of all origins, to join this great national and popular movement. We will work together with enthusiasm, conviction, and joy to bring France into the third millennium. Long live the republic France, live long!

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as the left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon placed third with about 22% of the vote. He asked his supporters not to give one vote to Marine Le Pen during the runoff.

For more, we travel to Paris to speak to RokhayaDiallo, a French journalist, writer and filmmaker. The Washington Post, her latest piece headlined “France has a chance to choose progressive ideals over hate and division.”

Welcome back Democracy Now!, Rokhaya. Explain the significance and importance of this vote.

ROKHAYA DIALLO: I want to thank you for inviting us. I’m glad to be back on air on Democracy Now!

The significance of that is that it’s something — the fact that Emmanuel Macron would face Marine Le Pen on the second round was something that was expected, but for the first time we’ve had two strong candidates from the far right, and there is also the fact that Jean-Luc Mélenchon, as you just mentioned, is also now impersonating the leading voice on the left. His party, La France Insoumise is the most likely to challenge both the far right and the right. And to me, what has happened yesterday just showed that now there are three — three oppose, if I can say, on the French political landscape, which is the far right, the liberal right and then the left, impersonated by Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his party, La France Insoumise.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about what actually happened, and what the protest vote for Macron is all about. He has spent most of his recent time focusing on Ukraine. Today he’s headed to the north, to Le Pen country. Talk about Marine Le Pen and what she said she would do if elected head of France.

ROKHAYA DIALLO: So, Marine Le Pen is the leader of the National Rally, which is the party that was created from the National Front by her father in the early ’70s, so it’s a very far-right party that was created in early ’70s by former Nazis, French, from France, and which has been — which has taken a very strong stance against immigration and against — yeah, mostly against immigration and against immigrants, and on the idea that French citizens should be privileged in front of the people from other countries. So, Marine Le Pen has put her feet in the legacy of her father but has really tried to change the party in a way to — in a certain way to soften the package.

During that campaign, she chose to not focus on immigration, but on the cost and decline in purchasing power of the French people. She has hid the true agenda of the National Rally which is explicitly anti-immigrant and xenophobic. To put herself in the position of a leader who would support French citizens who are facing difficulties due to the rise in prices, she has done so. So that’s the reason why she’s been — she’s gained so much support. Emmanuel Macron was elected in 2017 and his support for policies that would make the rich richer has sparked anger among the people. And that anger has found, in a way, some — its way to the National Rally, that is the party of Marine Le Pen.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk more about how Ukraine figured into this, and the relationship between Macron, the current president of France, with Putin, and the ad he put out with Marine Le Pen, rhyming “Le Pen” with “Putin,” and her close relationship with Putin?

ROKHAYA DIALLO: Marine Le Pen was among those who said that she had admiration for Putin. So, after the war started in Ukraine, of course, what she said, the fact that she was someone — an admirer of Putin, didn’t look good. So Macron is using now the fact that she’s been supportive to Putin, also the fact that in 2017, in order to fund her campaign, she borrowed money from Russia. She borrowed money from Hungary this year in 2022. So Macron is using that to say that she’s more likely to be in solidarity with Russia than him, because he says that he challenged Putin, and he was one of the people who went to visit him and who tried to stop the war in Ukraine.

So, it’s true that Marine Le Pen is very ambiguous with Putin, but it’s not the only thing that she needs to be addressed about. And also, the thing is that Emmanuel Macron for the first time said that Marine Le Pen and her party, the National Rally, was racist, which he hasn’t done during his mandate during the five years. He was more blurry, I would argue, about the line he should’ve drawn between his party, politics, and the far right.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you expect in this run-up to the final election on — what is it? — April 24th?

ROKHAYA DIALLO: Emmanuel Macron is most likely to win for the moment. He will not win the election in the same manner he won in 2017. In 2017, he was the face and voice of a renewal revolution, which was his book’s title. He was also claiming that he was neither left nor right. We can now see that he was clearly from the right and supported a neoliberal agenda after five years of his presidency. It will be difficult for him now to appeal to voters from the left who are likely to not vote. So the challenge now is to make sure that the far right doesn’t come into power, but at the same time not to give — to make Macron under the impression that he has the support of the whole population.

Marine Le Pen will win regardless of whether she wins. She won because she was able to secure herself and her party in the political landscape, and to spread her ideas across the entire political landscape. We can see this in the fact that Emmanuel Macron as president supported the hardline regarding immigration and minorities. To me, she has won in such a way that it has changed France’s mentality. She has also had a very significant influence over the voters. If we add her votes to those of other far-right parties, the far right now has more than 30%. That is a lot.

AMY GOODMAN: Rokhaya Diallo, French journalist and writer, filmmaker, contributor writer, wants to say thank you. The Washington Post. We’ll link to your latest piece.

Next up, we’re going to go down to Texas, where a prosecutor arrested a woman for murder after accusing her of causing a “self-induced abortion.” After massive public outcry, he says he will drop the charges. Stay with us.