Macron, Le Pen on the offensive ahead of final runoff

STORY: Incumbent French President Emmanuel Macron and his far-right rival Marine Le Pen were on the offensive as they made their final appeals to the electorate ahead of Sunday's run-off vote.

Centrist, pro-European Macron has consistently led the polls against his anti-immigration, eurosceptic challenger, well outside the margins of error.

But with abstention expected to be high, ire towards some of Macron's policies and a dislike of his sometimes abrasive style, his re-election is no done deal.

Undecided voters will be weighing their fears of what a Le Pen presidency could bring against their anger towards Macron's record.

Macron has acknowledged his failure to soothe some of the frustration and dissatisfaction around his efforts at economic and social reform, which he says Le Pen is using to drive her campaign.

But he has urged voters to resist what he called the rise of far-right ideology.

"We should not get used to the rise of far-right ideas. I think there are differences in the democratic, in a republican field, which should face each other off in a local or national election, but there are then differences of values between the categories of these ideas."

Le Pen's policies include a ban on Muslim headscarves in public, giving French nationals priority on jobs and benefits, and limiting Europe's rules on cross-border travel.

She claims Macron embodies an elitism that has failed ordinary people.

"In the face of this cold oligarchy, who grab power, in the face of a self-proclaimed, arrogant and moralistic elite, we are the voice and the soul of the silent majority. The overly kind silent majority, a majority that I am calling on to lend their voice, by lending me their votes."

A surprise Le Pen win, similar to events such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president, is still possible.

On the streets of Paris, uncertainty hangs in the air.

"I really don't want Marine Le Pen to be in power. I think she is totally pro-Putin (Russian President Vladimir Putin), and I totally oppose her foreign policy... I also oppose the atmosphere of civil war that she risks putting in place, especially with a hint of racism that has remained despite her efforts of softening her image."

In the northern city of Arras, concerns over the far-right have faded.

"Before I was for Mr. Macron, my ideas corresponded with his. And like many people, I'm disappointed by his mandate. And I want to give a chance to Marine Le Pen. I really support her, with my heart. I studied her background, and she has improved a lot since 2017 when she last ran for president."

Four recent surveys published after Wednesday's tense TV debate showed Macron's score as either stable or rising slightly.

But they also put the voter turnout rate at between 72% and 74% - potentially the lowest for a presidential run-off since 1969.

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