Macron seen most convincing in French election debate

Posted March 21, 2017

When France's presidential candidates get together for a formal debate later on Monday, they will at least have one thing to agree on - the country's economy is lagging others that have already had recent votes.

According to the poll for the BFMTV broadcaster, 29 percent of French believe Macron has been the most persuasive during the debate, while 20 percent of the voters named the leader of the left-wing political movement La France Insoumise (Unsubmissive France), Jean-Luc Melenchon.

The top candidates in France's presidential election went head-to-head in a televised debate on Monday as polls showed centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen pulling away from the pack five weeks before the first round.

A total of 1,157 people participated in the survey.

Macron, a former economics minister under sitting French president Francois Hollande, attacked Le Pen on her strident anti-immigration stance.

"We don't know what you want", she said.

Some of the sharpest exchanges were about the place of religion in France.

The anti-immigrant Le Pen, who wants to restrict religious garb in public spaces, said the burkini was a sign of the "rise of radical Islam in our country" and accused Macron of supporting it.

Polls show Macron and Le Pen establishing a clear lead in terms of voting intentions in the first round, while Fillon, the one-time front-runner who has been damaged by a financial scandal, has slipped back.

"I don't need a ventriloquist", he retorted.

Macron, a former investment banker, came under criticism for private donations made to his campaign when Hamon suggested he could fall under the influence of lobbies in the pharmaceutical, banking or oil industry. "It was used before Brexit", said Le Pen, who has pledged a similar referendum on France's European Union membership, said.

Macron also used humour to defuse Le Pen's attacks.

Conservative Francois Fillon was notably restrained. Once considered a leading contender to move into the presidency's Elysee Palace, Fillon's campaign has been badly hurt by accusations that his wife and children were paid with public money for jobs they allegedly did not do, which he denies.

Fillon, a former prime minister, himself alluded to the scandal, saying: "I may have committed some errors, I have faults, who doesn't, but I am experienced".

Hamon described Le Pen's attitude as "sickening" after she described French schools as "a daily nightmare", so risky that pupils attend with "fear in their stomachs". "By speaking it!" he said.

The list of 11 candidates was finalized Saturday.

Only the top two candidates go through to the runoff, where polls see Macron easily beating Le Pen.