Marine Le Pen says 'I'm ready' as French rivals prepare for TV debate

Far-right candidate says she has learnt from mistakes facing President Emmanuel Macron

Emmanuel Macron was widely seen as the winner of the 2017 TV debate with Marine Le Pen. AFP
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Marine Le Pen said she had learnt from her mistakes in debating Emmanuel Macron as the two candidates prepared for a prime-time televised clash in the final week of campaigning for the French presidency.

Wednesday’s debate will be a rematch of a bruising encounter in 2017 which was widely seen as a failure for Ms Le Pen, who was beaten by a landslide by Mr Macron in that year’s run-off.

With polls predicting a closer race this time, the far-right Ms Le Pen said she had learnt from the failures of her two previous presidential campaigns and told French television: “In my head, I’m ready to wield power.”

“I hope the debate… will be a confrontation of ideas,” she said while visiting Normandy in northern France. “We don’t have the same vision of society, the economy and the country, and that’s what should come out of the debate.”

A slick Mr Macron outmanoeuvred his opponent in the 2017 debate, leaving Ms Le Pen rummaging through her notes when questioned about her economic plans.

This time she “knows her programme perfectly, and she knows very well how Macron is going to try to attack her,” Louis Aliot, the far-right mayor of Perpignan and an ally of Ms Le Pen, told France Inter radio.

Mr Macron has done little sparring with rivals during this year’s election after he waited until the last moment to formally declare his candidacy, focusing instead on the war in Ukraine.

He and Ms Le Pen qualified for the run-off after topping the poll in the April 10 first round, with leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon in third place.

Polls suggest Mr Melenchon’s supporters are unenthusiastic about either of the remaining candidates despite overtures to the left by both camps.

A consultation by Mr Melenchon’s campaign team, which asked 216,000 supporters how they planned to vote on April 24, showed 67 per cent of respondents planning to abstain or spoil their ballot paper.

A third said they would support the president, while Ms Le Pen was not listed as an option in compliance with Mr Melenchon’s instructions that “not a single vote” should go to the far right.

Marine Le Pen was mobbed by voters and cameras during a visit to Normandy on Monday. AFP

Other eliminated candidates, including the centre-right Valerie Pecresse and socialist Anne Hidalgo, gave a more explicit endorsement of Mr Macron, while far-right pundit Eric Zemmour backed Ms Le Pen in the second round.

Polls suggest Mr Macron has slightly widened his lead since the first round of voting, in which time his allies have urged people to back the president to keep out the far right and protect France’s place in the European Union.

Ms Le Pen faced a separate headache on Monday after French prosecutors revealed they had received a report from an EU fraud agency about her National Rally party’s activities in the European Parliament.

Party lawyer Rodolphe Bosselut said Ms Le Pen denied allegations that she, her father Jean-Marie Le Pen and other party members had received 617,000 euros ($666,000) for fictitious reasons.

The fraud agency’s report was leaked to French investigative outlet Mediapart on Sunday and reportedly accused some party members of “grave violations”.

Updated: April 18, 2022, 2:22 PM