Far right Marine Le Pen challenges French President Macron in election showdown

French voters go to the polls Sunday for a second and final vote between incumbent President Emmanuel Macron and far right challenger Marine Le Pen. Le Pen, who has run a Trump-style campaign targeting immigration has been labeled by Macron as a radical. Meanwhile Le Pen charges that Macron is anti-France. Malcolm Brabant reports.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, France's 49 million voters go to the polls on Sunday for a second and final-round vote between incumbent President Emmanuel Macron and far right challenger Marine Le Pen.

    As campaigning ended, Macron cast Le Pen as a radical, while she told voters Macron is anti-France.

    Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from Paris.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    "We're going to win," chant the supporters of Marine Le Pen, who was thoroughly trounced by Emmanuel Macron in this contest five years ago.

    Since that defeat, Le Pen moderated her hard-line rhetoric to appear more mainstream. But she needs the votes of the extreme right, and, as her campaign peaked, she channeled Donald Trump with pleas to make France great again.

  • MARINE LE PEN, French Presidential Candidate (through translator):

    People of France, the moment when you can claim justice in the ballot box is approaching. The moment when you can throw away the bad memories of this reign of arrogance is this Sunday.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Marine Le Pen (through translator):

    People of France, rise up against those who have such little regard for the defense of our civilization, who have denigrated your history, your culture, your traditions, who have submerged our sole demographic prospect in immigration, who have authorized the construction of mosques and cathedrals subjected to pernicious foreign influences.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    France's eternal inspiration, Marianne, who symbolizes freedom, solidarity, and equality, is draped in the Ukrainian flag.

    But Le Pen has been accused by President Macron of being in Vladimir Putin's pocket after her party borrowed nearly $10 million from a Moscow bank. Le Pen has threatened to withdraw France from NATO's American-led integrated military command. She's also opposed to ending imports of Russian oil, because she believes it would hurt France.

    In this election, domestic issues trump concerns over European peace. Marine Le Pen has very little support in metropolitan Paris. Rural villages and provincial towns like Arras here in Northern France have become her stronghold. This is part of France's rust belt, which has been hit hard by the closure of steel mills and mines. Le Pen's pledges to cut the cost of living and also her anti-immigrant stance really resonate here.

  • Woman (through translator):

    I'm not racist. I have had foreign friends who integrated better, whereas, nowadays, they are in small communities. They don't mix. We have had Italians, Spanish. They assimilated. They learned the language. They Learn our habits. But them, no. You see, that, for me, that's not France.

  • Man (through translator):

    From a builder's perspective, with Marine Le Pen, we can have better purchasing power, which will be great.

  • Woman (through translator):

    What will be better with Marine is that she will save France. She's got a program.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The prospect of a Le Pen presidency horrifies those living amid the brutalist architecture of France's poor city suburbs.

    Saint-Denis on the outskirts of Paris is the most diverse district in the country.

  • Pedro Kouyate, Musician (through translator):

    Look at me. I'm scared because I'm a foreigner, even though I was born here. Le Pen tells me I'm only French on paper, but I'm French. That's why I'm scared.

    Malcolm Brabant Songwriter and composer Pedro Kouyate fuses African rhythms with Western genres. He was born in France after his parents emigrated from Mali in West Africa, which is struggling with an Islamist insurgency. Despite Le Pen's assurances, ultimately, he fears deportation.

  • Pedro Kouyate (through translator):

    We are the scapegoats. I'm scared because I love this country. Long before me, my ancestors helped France during the Second World War, and now we're looking at the other end of the spectrum, where the right wing have said what they will do, and they will apply what they have said.

    Be careful. We know who we're dealing with here.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Sociologist and anthropologist Nacira Guenif-specializes in migration and ethnic minorities. She hopes that supporters of left winger Jean-Luc Melenchon, eliminated in the election's first round held two weeks ago, will vote for Macron on Sunday.

    What do you think the chances that there could be a Trump-style upset and Le Pen will win, against the odds?

    Nacira Guenif-Souilamas, University of Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis: Yes, there might be something of that kind, I mean, if you consider that Europe is not free of all these tendencies, and France is part of Europe, and it hasn't fought hard enough against states like Hungary or Poland that put to the fore these kind of policies against migration, against civil rights.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Guenif is relying on disaffected voters, like 26-year-old waitress Mariama Sadio, to cast their ballots against Le Pen.

  • Mariama Sadio, Waitress (through translator):

    I tell you, I have got the chills. It's scary. It's scary because, in her right wing program, where do we immigrants go? What are we going to do? What are we going to become?

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Le Pen's campaign is banking on unhappy left-leaning voters abstaining. Mariama Sadio falls into that camp.

    Don't you think you have to vote tactically to stop Le Pen from getting in?

  • Mariama Sadio (through translator):

    It could be seen as a tactical vote. I understand that. But, to me, that would mean I was for Macron, and I'm not for Macron.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Centrist Emmanuel Macron has a serious fight on his hands, because his five-year presidency was littered with protests. And he's widely perceived as being arrogant and out of touch with much of the population.

    Le Pen's surge is said to have caused panic amongst the president's strategists. Alexandre Holroyd represents Macron's party in the National Assembly.

    Has President Macron been complacent in this campaign?

  • Alexandre Holroyd, French Parliament Member:

    Absolutely not. I think the president has been as much as a candidate as he could, and has been as much of a president as he had to.

    And this has been an exceptional time, obviously, with the conflict in Ukraine. And he's been fully working, day in and day out, trying to prevent that conflict originally and try and mitigate its impact.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Although still preoccupied with Ukraine, Macron has stepped up his campaigning in these final days.

  • Emmanuel Macron, French President (through translator):

    To all the French who chose to abstain or the vote on the extreme, I want to convince them in the coming days that our project is a much stronger response compared to the far-right's scares and the challenges of our time. You can count on me.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Le Pen's rallies always end with "La Marseillaise," the French national anthem.

    This election represents the best chance the far right has ever had of winning the presidency. Yet all the latest opinion polls suggest that Marine Le Pen will fall short once again.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in Paris.

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