French vote seen from abroad: Le Pen steals the limelight

AFP , Sunday 19 Mar 2017

Marine Le Pen's far-right rhetoric, Francois Fillon's survival tale and Emmanuel Macron's novel style: the ups and downs of the French presidential election have captured international attention.

The main focus: the rise of populism.

In Brexit Britain, the French electoral campaign is being closely-watched.

Many, from the media to leaders and Londoners still stunned by the result of the referendum on European Union membership, wonder whether Le Pen could actually come out on top.

Ian Bond, director of policy at the Centre for European Reform think tank, said the election reflects "the battle between mainstream politics and populism".

It will reveal whether populism "will take another step forward or if it has reached its peak, and if more reasonable politicians will be able to reassert themselves in Europe," he said.

The UK Independence Party's former leader Nigel Farage, a leading campaigner for Brexit, said that an election victory for Le Pen and her far-right National Front (FN) would "bring down" the European Union.

In Germany, the prospect of a Le Pen victory is worrisome and a "real danger" according to Sigmar Gabriel, the minister for foreign affairs.

"The only question that matters, is who can beat Marine Le Pen," the weekly news magazine Der Spiegel wrote.

In the United States, where many focus on whether the "Trumpism" wave will grow or fizzle out, Marine Le Pen's name is the only one to really stand out.

However, as the Richmond Times-Dispatch highlighted, there are differences between the US President and the aspiring French candidate, most notably, her "constancy and coherence," which Trump lacks, according to the newspaper.

As the CNN journalist Anderson Cooper pointed out, Le Pen is a "professional politician".

In Russia, Le Pen is the clear media favourite and her manifesto is presented as the best.

On Sunday, the popular "Vesti Nedeli" television show hailed her anti-immigration policies before delving into allegations about moderate candidate Emmanuel Macron's assets.

The show labelled him President Francois "Hollande's creature".

The other candidate to find favour in Russia is Francois Fillon.

The right-wing presidential hopeful, charged for misusing public funds, is described as the "victim of persecution" by Vesti Nedeli.

But his "Russian friendships" could end up working against him, the state news agency RIA Novosti said.

Elsewhere, the former PM's continued candidacy is a source of incredulity and ridicule.

"I can't see that in the UK," Bond said, adding: "If such a case arose, senior figures in any political party would give him a bottle of whisky and a revolver".

"Apparently, he drank the whisky and gave them the gun back".

In Germany, where politicians' ethics are under strong public scrutiny, Fillon's persistence has caused shock.

Der Spiegel said the Fillon "saga" not only affects the political elite but also seriously damages "the reputation of the republic and its institutions".

Macron is often found intriguing and, sometimes, charming.

German media praise "the blue-eyed boy who reads Goethe" -- a recent headline from the liberal Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

The left-wing Tagesszeitung is more critical, describing Macron as "the elites' candidate" but also as "the last defence against the National Front".

In London, where he met with Prime Minister Theresa May and held a rally for thousands of supporters, his liberal views are attractive.

The daily Independent newspaper said: "It is Emmanuel Macron, not Marine Le Pen, who will come to be known as France's answer to Donald Trump."

Unsurprisingly, Russia expresses little love for him.

The Kremlin-backed Sputnik, which aims to gain a foothold in France, denounced what it views as the French media's "favourable" treatment of Macron.

It also said the "satanic trio" of NATO, the European Central Bank and the European Union want to "impose their Macron".

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