Emmanuel Macron leads in the polls but with a fifth of voters undecided some believe Marine Le Pen could yet spring a surprise in Sunday’s vote
A cleaner removes election posters from a billboard in Cessales near Toulouse in southern France (AFP)
TOULOUSE, France – The accepted logic is that far-right candidate Marine Le Pen needs a perfect political storm to win the French presidency in Sunday’s election.
She trails her youthful centrist rival Emmanuel Macron by 20 percentage points according to the latest polls and Wednesday’s fierce and bitter debate seems to have done little to narrow the gap.
The prevailing assumption is that a broad majority of voters – a so-called Republican Front that includes the poor and the vast majority of French Muslims – will support Macron, 39, to keep Le Pen, who many consider a fascist, out of the Elysee Palace.
But in southwest France, from the cosmopolitan city of Toulouse to the sun-drenched vineyards, medieval towns and bucolic hills of Tarn-et-Garonne department, there is just a glimpse of a possible political upset that could see the once solidly left-wing region vote for Le Pen, or not vote at all.
France today is a nation shaped by generations of sluggish economic performance, growing nationalist sentiment and more recently, the spectre of a series of deadly al-Qaeda- and Islamic State-claimed attacks that have pitched the country into a state of emergency.
Le Pen, 48, hopes to take advantage of this malaise by firing up a fury against her centrist rival and discouraging left wingers from voting. If this works, and she can reach enough of the estimated 18 percent of undecided voters, then she could yet make the election a close-run thing.
Toulouse, the so-called Pink City of Spanish influence and high-tech aerospace manufacturing, voted for far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon in the first round, but now Macron’s supporters fear those voters will stay away on Sunday, or, even worse, opt to vote for Le Pen.
Earlier this week there was even a “Ni Macron, Ni Len Pen” demonstration of around 100 socialists in the city’s Place Du Capitole. Watching that demonstration was 18-year-old student journalist Manon Louvet, who will vote for the first time on Sunday.