Presidential election sees upheaval but no change in outlook

Marine Le Pen

With only 19 days to go before the first round of the election, the debate will give challengers like conservative Francois Fillon an opportunity to close the gap on centrist Macron and far-right leader Le Pen.

"However, large majority of French people do not wish to leave the European currency, which means that there is no economic policy for Madame Le Pen", Fillon said.

"You are saying the same lies that we've heard from your father for 40 years", he said.

Far-right candidate for the presidential election Marine Le Pen waves to supporters at the end of her speech during a meeting in La Bazoche Gouet, central France, Monday, April 3, 2017.

After two hours of debate among the 11 presidential candidates on unemployment, immigration and relations with Europe, two far-left candidates took the gloves off and piled into Fillon and Le Pen over judicial investigations against them.

There Macron was seen winning the presidency 62 percent to Le Pen's 38 percent, a margin that was down from 65 percent to 35 percent two weeks ago.

A survey released on Tuesday showed Macron and Le Pen tied on 25 percent of voting intention in the April 23 election.

When questioned about legal problems surrounding her National Front party including campaign financing and the use of expenses at the European parliament, she said she considered herself to be "politically persecuted".

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"I consider that in this election our civilisation is at stake", she said at the start of the debate, promising to restore order and combat "unfettered globalisation".

It also is, for outsiders like right-winger Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who has around 4-5 percentage points in opinion polls, and for five candidates who poll between 0 and 1 percent, a rare chance to step into the spotlight.

He has resisted calls to step down and hit out a "conspiracy" against him but shows no sign of recovering in the polls as the scandal over thousands of euros of public money paid to his wife, son and daughter continues.

"I'm not intimidated. I'm still here, as you can see", he added and said that the French would "make their own judgment" in the election.

The others are Jacques Cheminade, who rails against the "domination" of global finance; the New Anti-Capitalist Party's Philippe Poutou; Nathalie Arthaud of the Workers Party; Francois Asselineau, who wants to quit the euro and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation; and Jean Lassalle, a self-styled "farmer-politician" without political affiliation. Certainly, in the U.S. few took Donald Trump seriously as a candidate even just one year ago at the outset of the Republican Party presidential primary elections.

There are certainly many similarities between Marine Le Pen's National Front in France and Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom in the Netherlands.

"An exemplary president is one who tells the truth to the French about the state of France and the reality of the world".

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