Paris socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo joins battle to topple Macron

AFP , Monday 13 Sep 2021

Hidalgo, 62, is one of a handful of candidates from both right and left bidding to become France's first woman president

Paris Mayor
Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo speaks as she takes part in the news broadcast of France 2 TV channel in Paris, after she announced her candidacy for the 2022 French presidential election, on September 12 2021. AFP

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo on Sunday launched her bid for the French presidency, stressing green and social issues, and far-right leader Marine Le Pen set out her vision for the top job as the race to unseat incumbent Emmanuel Macron gathers pace.

Hidalgo, 62, is one of a handful of candidates from both right and left bidding to become France's first woman president.

Macron has yet to confirm he will seek a second term but is widely expected to run again.

Polls suggest he and Le Pen would top the first round of voting in April and Macron would then beat Le Pen in the run-off, in a repeat of 2017.

Hidalgo is favoured to win the nomination of her Socialist party later this month but faces an uphill battle to unite the fractured left behind her candidacy.

She chose the dockyards of the Socialist-run city of Rouen to make her pitch for a low-carbon economy and more spending on education, housing and health.

"I want all children in France to have the same opportunities I had," she said, crediting the French school system with helping her overcome the "class prejudice" she suffered as the child of Spanish immigrants -- her father was an electrician and her mother a seamstress -- in a housing estate in Lyon.

Hidalgo enters the race as a polarising figure whose campaign to squeeze cars out of Paris and green the city has divided residents.

She has emphasised her record as a capable manager who steered Paris through a series of crises, from a string of terror attacks to the "yellow vest" riots of 2018 and 2019 and the fire that ravaged Notre Dame cathedral.

Attacking Macron

Shortly after her announcement, the anti-immigration, anti-EU Le Pen set out the main themes of her third campaign for president in a speech in the southern city of Frejus.

In typical barnstorming mode, Le Pen told a crowd of flag-waving supporters she would clean up "parts of France that have been Talibanised" -- a reference to the presence of radical Islamists in some high-rise housing estates.

She also made overtures to the many thousands who stage weekly protests against the Covid "health pass", which requires people to show proof of vaccination or a negative test to get served in restaurants, take long-distance trains and a host of other services.

Le Pen, who is campaigning as the defender of French "liberty", called it "a disproportionate violation of the right to freedom".

Polls currently suggest Hidalgo would garner only seven to nine percent in the first round of voting for president in April if picked to represent the Socialists.

She is hoping to boost that score by tapping into the growing climate activism of France's younger generation.

Macron 'arrogance'

Both Hidalgo and Le Pen accused Macron of "arrogance" -- one of the accusations that underpinned the yellow vest revolt -- and they stressed their commitment to women's rights.

Le Pen vowed to make the streets safe for women to walk "at any time of day or night and in any neighbourhood".

Hidalgo said she would push for gender pay equality.

Le Pen's combative rhetoric masks disquiet in her National Rally after its poor showings in regional elections in June.

Analysts have warned of potential voter fatigue with Le Pen after two failed campaigns.

And Le Pen could be hobbled by a rival far-right candidacy from controversial TV pundit and author Eric Zemmour.

Zemmour, who has built up a loyal following with diatribes against migration and the Muslim headscarf, is rumoured to be planning to use a forthcoming book tour to throw his hat in the ring.

Macron meanwhile, received a key endorsement from the right: his former prime minister Edouard Philippe.

"My support for the president of the republic will be total in 2022," Philippe told TF1 television on Sunday evening.

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