UPDATED: France’s Macron says he entered presidential race later than he wished

Reading Time: 3 minutes

PARIS, April 8 (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday accused his far-right challenger Marine Le Pen of lying to voters about her campaign platform as he sought to rally support two days before the presidential election’s first round.

Macron, whose re-election seemed a foregone conclusion just weeks ago, is now facing a stiff challenge from Le Pen. Her solid comeback in opinion polls has put her victory within the margin of error in some surveys.

“Her fundamentals have not changed: it’s a racist programme that aims to divide society and is very brutal,” Macron told Le Parisien newspaper. “There was a clear strategy (from Le Pen’s camp) to hide what is brutal in her programme.”

Le Pen told broadcaster Franceinfo that she was “shocked” at Macron’s accusation of racism which she rejected, saying her programme aimed at putting the rights of French people first, regardless of their origin.

She has centered her campaign on purchasing power, successfully softening her image and tapping into voters’ main concern by promising to cut taxes.

“She is lying to people,” Macron said, slamming Le Pen’s campaign pledges as empty promises that she would not be able to finance and that would send investors fleeing, resulting in mass unemployment.

While Le Pen has not changed the core of her party’s anti-immigration platform, which would strip foreigners of many rights and ban the hijab in all public spaces, she has not focused her campaign on that.

Rival far-right candidate Eric Zemmour’s radical, outspoken views have helped her look more mainstream and many left-wing voters have told pollsters that, unlike in 2017, they would not vote in the second round to keep Le Pen out of power.

Barring surprises, Le Pen is expected on Sunday to win a ticket to face off Macron in the run-off on April 24. Macron is still ahead in opinion polls, which still see him as the most likely winner.

But he expressed regret on Friday for having entered the race late, saying he had done so because of the war in Ukraine.

“Who could have understood six weeks ago that all of sudden I would start political rallies, that I would focus on domestic issues when the war started in Ukraine,” Macron told RTL radio.

“So it is a fact that I entered (the campaign) even later than I wished,” Macron said, adding that he retained a “spirit of conquest rather than of defeat.”

Posters shows French President and liberal party La Republique en Marche (LREM) candidate for re-election Emmanuel Macron in Lille, France. The posters of the 12 candidates for the 2022 presidential election have their place on the billboards installed in the 35,000 municipalities of France, next to each polling station. The first round of the French presidential election will take place on 10 April and the second round on 24 April. EPA-EFE/Mohammed Badra

Once you're here...