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French Presidential Candidates Hold Final Debate ahead of Sunday Polls | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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French presidential election candidates Francois Fillon, Emmanuel Macron, Jean-Luc Melenchon, Marine Le Pen and Benoit Hamon pose before a debate. (AFP)

Paris – The eleven candidates running in the French presidential elections held a final televised debate on Thursday night ahead of the first round of the polls that will take place on Sunday.

Each of the candidates was given 15 minutes to address the French people in their final media appearance ahead of the elections.

According to the latest opinion polls, centrist Emmanuel Macrn, the far-right’s Marine Le Pen, the right’s Francois Fillon and far-left Jean-Luc Melenchon are the closest to making it to the second round. Macron and Le Pen are leading the polls and only two candidates will make it to the final round of elections on May 7.

Chloe Morin, director of the Observatory of Public Opinion, told AFP that the final three days before Sunday’s elections will give the estimated 10 million undecided voters time to make up their minds on a candidate.

Each presidential hopeful has therefore sought to distinguish himself during the final hours of campaigning.

Le Pen has raised the tone of her party’s traditional rhetoric, especially her anti-immigration and Europe stance, and focused on security issues.

Macron meanwhile took advantage of Monday’s thwarted “imminent” attack in France to portray himself as the only candidate who can “guarantee” the security of the French people. He has enjoyed the backing of Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who recently joined his electoral camp.

Fillon has focused on clearing his image after he was struck by scandals that have revolved around his family. The former prime minister reiterated in the final days of campaigning that he will advance to the runoff vote. He has enjoyed the support of former President Nicholas Sarkozy and ex-PM Alain Juppe.

Melenchon is viewed as Fillon’s most direct rival. With his far-left stances, Melenchon has raised concerns among the right voters, who see in him a “communist” threat due to his anti-Europe and anti-globalization approach.

It seemed unfortunate for Fillon however that he was the last candidate to appear on Thursday’s debate, which went on late into the night, while Melenchon was the first.

The final day of campaigning will see two or even three electoral rallies by Macron, while Melenchon will hold one in Paris where he is due to be joined by Spanish left leader Pablo Iglesias, secretary general of the Podemos party.

The details of Fillon and Le Pen’s final electoral rallies have been kept under wraps.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama spoke to 39-year-old Macron on Thursday about the “important upcoming presidential election in France”, a spokesman for the former US president said.

Macron’s camp said the candidate had “warmly thanked” Obama for his “friendly call”.