France's Macron to kick off re-election bid in March
President Emmanuel Macron will launch his re-election bid on March 5 at an inaugural campaign rally in Marseille, sources in his party said Wednesday.
Macron has so far kept away from formal campaigning ahead of the April 10 first round, working round-the-clock in diplomatic efforts to a avert a war caused by a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The declaration of his candidacy is now expected next week, just ahead of a March 4 deadline. Three sources in his centrist Republic on the Move (LREM) party told AFP on Wednesday told AFP his first rally would then be on March 5 in Marseille.
Polls have steadily indicated that Macron is likely to come out on top in the first round of voting on April 10.
Yet the polls also suggest that securing a second five-year term in the run-off vote two weeks later is far from a foregone conclusion, as the far right has continued to make inroads in recent years.
The extreme-right vote is currently divided between two candidates, Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour, trailed by the conservative candidate Valerie Pecresse.
Analysts say low turnout -- nearly one in four voters did not cast ballots in the 2017 contest -- could add another layer of uncertainty to the first-round outcome.
Macron, a former investment banker and economy minister under Socialist president Francois Hollande, swept to power as an outsider candidate of "neither the right nor the left," promising wide-ranging reforms to shake up the French economy.
He moved quickly to cut taxes and loosen labour laws in a bid to stoke growth, and pushed through an overhaul of the state-owned railway SNCF despite fierce resistance from labour unions.
He also drew ire for policies said to favour the wealthy, and a fuel tax increase that impacted rural and small-town France in particular sparked the fiery "yellow vest" protests in 2018 and 2019 that forced him to make a series of concessions for low-income households.
- Five more years? -
Macron's rivals have accused him of smothering debate over his record by refusing to officially declare his candidacy until the last minute, and his team has indicated he is unlikely to participate in a debate ahead of the first round.
The president has instead projected an image of a being busy with global affairs and his failure to prevent Vladimir Putin from sending Russian troops into breakaway Ukraine enclaves could open him to attacks of political naivete or miscalculation.
But analysts say Macron might also get credit for trying against the odds to avert a conflict, bolstering his credentials as an appreciated statesman on the international stage.
An Elabe poll released Wednesday put him at 24.5 percent of intentions to vote in the first round, followed by 18 percent for Le Pen, the veteran far-right leader who lost out to Macron in the second round five years ago.
Media pundit Zemmour was at 13.5 percent, while Pecresse slipped to fourth place at 11.5 percent after a Paris campaign rally this month that was widely panned as both stilted and pandering to fears over immigration.
On the left, the biggest threat appears to come from the firebrand candidacy of Jean-Luc Melenchon at 11 percent, with the rest of the field sharply divided and struggling to gain traction.
The March 4 deadline looms for all candidates to secure the 500 endorsements from elected officials to appear on the ballot.
While Macron and most other main hopefuls have cleared this hurdle, Melenchon, Le Pen and Zemmour are still scrambling for the support, prompting their backers to warn of a democratic deficit if they are kept off the ballot.
On Tuesday, Le Pen suspended her on-the-ground campaign events so her team could focus on getting the remaining 100 or so endorsements needed.
Others have called to reform a system aimed at excluding "frivolous" runs, potentially by making endorsements anonymous.
Prime Minister Jean Castex urged officials Tuesday to give their signatures to the stragglers, calling it "a profoundly democratic" gesture.