France's Le Pen suffers high-profile defection to rival Zemmour

Le Pen polling second behind Emmanuel Macron, who will probably secure second term

French far-right Rassemblement National party presidential candidate Marine Le Pen. AFP
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French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen was dealt a blow on Sunday as her party's only senator became the latest member to throw his support behind rival Eric Zemmour for April's election.

Polls show Ms Le Pen reaching a second-round run-off against President Emmanuel Macron, who is then likely to win a second five-year term in office.

Ms Le Pen is polling better than Mr Zemmour but she is struggling to breathe new life into her campaign after defections of which Senator Stephane Ravier is the latest and most high profile.

"From now on I am giving my support to Eric Zemmour in this presidential campaign because I'm convinced that he is the real uniter," Mr Ravier told Europe 1 radio.

Ms Le Pen, who lost to Mr Macron in a 2017 run-off election for president, has in recent years tried to make her party more palatable to traditional conservative and working-class voters.

But that has turned off some core supporters who have instead backed Mr Zemmour, a former journalist who has been convicted of inciting racial hatred.

French far-right Rassemblement National party presidential candidate Marine Le Pen visits a local market in Menton, south-eastern France, on February 12. AFP

Mr Zemmour, who says he wants to save France from decadence and minorities who "oppress the majority", has made a career of testing the limits of political correctness.

Last month Ms Le Pen's niece Marion Marechal, a popular figure among far-right voters, said Mr Zemmour was a better candidate, and two EU politicians defected.

So far the defections have not translated into meaningful gains for Mr Zemmour in the polls, which put him in fourth place behind Mr Macron, Ms Le Pen and Valerie Pecresse, the conservative Republicans' candidate.

French far-right party Reconquete! presidential candidate Eric Zemmour on February 13. AFP

On Sunday, French presidential candidate Valerie Pecresse, seeking to revitalise her prospects, voiced support for border walls and raised the spectre of a “great replacement” of the population by non-white immigrants.

Addressing thousands of supporters in Paris, Ms Pecresse, who is running for the mainstream centre-right Republicans party, suggested that France had lost much of its influence under Mr Macron and that it would sink further if he were re-elected.

“In 10 years will we still be the seventh power in the world? Will we still be a sovereign nation or instead a US auxiliary, a trading post of China? Will we be a united nation or a fragmented nation?” she asked.

“Faced with these vital questions, neither the great downgrading nor the great replacement are inevitable.”

Ms Pecresse also said immigration was “overflowing” and creating “zones of non-France,” urging the reinstatement of borders in Europe to strengthen sovereignty.

“If for that it is necessary to build barriers or even walls, as requested by the states that are on the front line in the face of migratory blackmail, I will support them,” she said.

Valerie Pecresse, presidential candidate and president of the Regional Council of Ile-de-France, at a campaign event in Paris on February 13. Bloomberg

Polls show Ms Pecresse would not make it beyond the election’s first round on April 10, and her remarks suggest that she is tacking to the right to pick up support.

She seems to be embracing the hard-line anti-immigration position of Eric Ciotti, who she defeated in the Republicans primary.

Mr Ciotti is a supporter of the “great replacement” theory, in which the white French population is being eclipsed demographically and culturally by Arabs and sub-Saharan Muslims.

Mr Zemmour has also championed the doctrine.

Last week, Eric Woerth, a budget minister under former president Nicolas Sarkozy, said he was leaving The Republicans to support Mr Macron, and criticised Ms Pecresse for becoming too hard on immigration and security.

Updated: April 11, 2022, 4:41 AM