PARIS – As France’s unpredictable presidential campaign nears its finish with no clear front-runner, centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen hope to rally big crowds in Paris with their rival visions for Europe’s future.
Meanwhile, far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, enjoying a late poll surge, is campaigning on a barge Monday floating through the canals of Paris. And conservative candidate François Fillon is taking his tough-on-security campaign to the southern French city of Nice, which was scarred by a deadly truck attack last year that killed 86 people.
The race is being watched internationally as an important gauge of populist sentiment, and the outcome is increasingly uncertain just six days before Sunday’s first round vote.
Le Pen’s nationalist rhetoric and Melenchon’s anti-globalization campaign have resonated with French voters sick of the status quo. Macron, meanwhile, is painting himself as an anti-establishment figure seeking to bury the traditional left-right spectrum that has governed France for decades.
The top two vote-getters Sunday of the 11 candidates on the ballot advance to the May 7 presidential runoff. The latest polls suggest that Le Pen, Macron, Melenchon and Fillon all have a chance of reaching the runoff — and as many as a third of voters remain undecided.
Macron, a former investment banker well connected in the business world, held a rally in Paris on Monday attended by 20,000 people, according to organizers.
Advocating for strong pro-European views, he has pledged to represent an “open, confident, winning France” in contrast with far-right and far-left rivals.
Without naming them, he said Le Pen and Melenchon want to isolate France form the rest of the world.
“We feel everywhere the temptation of barbarism ready to surge in other guises … No, we will not let them do it,” he said.
He also made an implicit reference to Fillon by suggesting some are seeking the presidency to get judicial immunity.
Fillon’s austerity-focused campaign has been damaged by accusations that he misused taxpayer money to pay his wife and children for government jobs that they allegedly did not perform. French investigators are probing the case.
Fillon denies wrongdoing and is focusing instead on security issues that resonate with many voters after two years of deadly attacks across the country. French voters will cast their ballots under a state of emergency that’s been repeatedly extended as new violence has hit.
After Macron, Le Pen is holding her last big rally in the Paris region later Monday.
Meanwhile, Melenchon, speaking on a river boat in Pantin, in the Paris suburbs, said he doesn’t want France to exit the European Union but would be ready to do it if other member states don’t accept negotiations to reform the 28-nation bloc.
“European treaties are destroying Europe. I am not destroying Europe, I am not putting it in danger, I’m not the one who made Britain go out, I’m not the one who is making troubles in all European countries, I’m not provoking nationalist feeling everywhere. It is the European way of organization that is pushing people toward that,” he said.
Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon insisted Monday that he, too, remains a contender.
“Things are evolving,” he said on Europe-1 radio.
The Socialists’ campaign has suffered from internal divisions and Socialist President Francois Hollande’s dismal image — he’s so unpopular that he declined to seek a second term.