Bloomberg.- France’s presidential election is becoming a four-way contest as far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon surges to catch Republican Francois Fillon, stoking uncertainty over the outcome less than two weeks before voting begins.
In a sign of the closeness of the race, Fillon turned his sights on Melenchon on Sunday as both contenders held rallies at opposite ends of the country. Fillon sought to rally supporters for a comeback as multiple polls suggest that Melenchon has the momentum going into the crucial final stretch of campaigning.
“The electoral potential of Jean-Luc Melenchon is very high,” said Emmanuel Riviere, a pollster at Kantar Sofres in Paris. Even so, he added, “Fillon has the most solid base.”
Melenchon’s surprise groundswell of support coupled with Fillon’s resilience adds another layer of risk to France’s most unpredictable election in a generation. The latest Kantar Sofres poll published late Sunday had independent Emmanuel Macron and National Front leader Marine Le Pen tied in first place with 24 percent support apiece, followed by Melenchon with 18 percent then Fillon 1 point behind.
While polls have earned a mixed reputation after failing to predict last year’s Brexit vote in the U.K. or Donald Trump’s election to the White House, the Kantar survey is mirrored by the Bloomberg poll composite, which gives both Melenchon and Fillon about 18 percent and Macron and Le Pen just over 23 percent.
When margins of error are taken into account, that suggests all four candidates are in a position to be among the top two after the first round of voting on April 23, and that the contest remains wide open with a month to go until the May 7 runoff.
“It has effectively become a four-way race,” said Kantar’s Riviere.
Macron set out details of his counter-terrorism strategy Monday, saying that if elected he will push for a European Union initiative allowing governments to requisition information from major technology companies such as Google and Apple Inc. to bolster counter-terrorism efforts. Le Pen plans a press conference on terrorism later Monday.
The security focus by the two first-round front-runners follows a major rally held by Fillon in Paris Sunday, where he asked all 577 Republican candidates for the legislative elections to join him — a dig at Macron, who has started a party and doesn’t have all his candidates in place. Pollsters including Lecerf say Fillon may benefit on Election Day from a reserve of supporters who return to their traditional partisan loyalties at the last minute.
Even so, the former front-runner has significant ground to make up and only a hint of momentum. The Journal du Dimanche titled its article on his rally, “Fillon believes in a miracle.” Fillon used his unpopularity to his advantage, saying “I’m not asking you to like me, but I ask for your support because it’s in the interest of France,” and then he went on to attack his rivals.
“I saw that Emmanuel Macron is claiming that he offers profound change,” Fillon told his supporters at the Paris rally. “Those who are coming to support him are being fooled. When he names his team the Socialists will reappear and the loser will be France.”
While Macron, a former minister in Socialist President Francois Hollande’s administration, is broadly tied with Le Pen for the first round, he’s considered the front-runner because all surveys suggest he’d win a runoff against the National Front leader. The Kantar Sofres poll showed that Fillon and Melenchon would also defeat Le Pen on May 7.
One sign of Melenchon’s momentum is that Macron too has begun attacking him. The Macron campaign’s Twitter feed released a clip Sunday that suggests Melenchon can’t keep his campaign pledges, an argument echoed in a France 3 television interview Sunday.
“Jean-Luc Melenchon — he’s a very nice guy, but his promises are impossible to deliver and his program would be a disaster for France,” Macron said. “He’s for the destruction of the European Union, the Europe that protects us. He is for massive taxation. Personally, I don’t know how you create jobs without companies.”
Melenchon addressed supporters in Marseille, portraying himself as the candidate of peace and criticizing Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel for backing U.S. airstrikes in Syria.
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“If you want peace, be careful with your vote,” he said. “We’ve seen the president and his German counterpart give their full backing to the criminal and irresponsible act of the president of the United States. Remember these days when you go to vote.”
Meanwhile, Le Pen said Sunday that France isn’t responsible for the 1942 “Vel d’Hiv” roundup in which more than 13,000 Jews were arrested to be deported to Nazi concentration camps.
On July 16 and 17, 1942, French police officers arrested the group in and around Paris at the request of the Nazi German authorities and stationed them in the Parisian cycling arena known as the Vel d’Hiv, before deporting them to concentration camps.
In July 1995, then French President Jacques Chirac apologized for the action and admitted the responsibility of the French state, contradicting a previous official line according to which the authorities based in Vichy, France, during World War II didn’t represent the true country.
“France has been mistreated in minds for years,” Le Pen said in an interview on RTL radio. “In reality, our children have been taught they had every reason to criticize it, to see only its darkest aspects,” she said. “I want them to be proud to be French again.”
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