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Paris attack halts campaigns before French vote on Sunday

The eleven French presidential election candidates take part in a special political television show titled “15min to Convince” at the studios of French Television channel France 2 in Saint-Cloud, Paris, on Thursday. Photo: ReutersPremium
The eleven French presidential election candidates take part in a special political television show titled “15min to Convince” at the studios of French Television channel France 2 in Saint-Cloud, Paris, on Thursday. Photo: Reuters

Paris attack overshadows last day of France presidential election campaign as centrist Emmanuel Macron continued to be the frontrunner

Paris: The murder of a policeman on the Champs-Elysees has forced an early end to campaigning for the leading candidates ahead of Sunday’s first round vote in the most uncertain election in recent French history.

Republican candidate Francois Fillon, the National Front’s Marine Le Pen, centrist Emmanuel Macron, and Socialist Benoit Hamon canceled events planned for Friday. Communist-backed Jean-Luc Melenchon said he wouldn’t cede to “panic" and will continue with his plans for the day. No campaigning is allowed on Saturday.

The late Thursday shooting that left one policeman dead and two others injured in the center of Paris was claimed by Islamic State and has added extra uncertainty to the campaign. The attacker was shot and killed. At the time of the incident, all the candidates were appearing on a television interview show.

The attack could impact the outcome of the first round vote, said Bruno Jeanbart, head of political studies at pollster OpinionWay. “I think this election is sufficiently unstable that it could still move things," he said. “Marine Le Pen is notably one to watch."

The incident occurred at the end of a first-round campaign that began with a populist insurgency led by Le Pen and has drawn to a close with Melenchon surging above expectations.

Melenchon momentum

Melenchon and Fillon will be hoping to snatch a place in the 7 May runoff from front-runners Le Pen and Macron. Macron has been vying with Le Pen for the lead since the start of March, but Melenchon has seized the initiative over the past month, almost doubling his support to leave the final result up for grabs.

Voters head to the polls under emergency laws introduced in November 2015 when gunmen killed 130 people in attacks around Paris, and security concerns have been a major theme of the campaign.

Also Read: Paris shooting at Champs Elysees ahead of polls leaves 1 dead, ISIS claims attack

Le Pen topped the polls for the first round during much of the race with her pledges to cut immigration, restore border controls, crack down on radical Islam, and take France out of the euro.

Investor concerns about a rupture of the currency union have been tempered by surveys showing she would eventually lose to either Macron or Fillon in the runoff. Melenchon’s rise has altered those calculations, pushing French bond yields close to a four-year high.

“This election is incredibly tight," said Dominique Reynie, a professor of political science at Sciences Po in Paris. “It suggests whatever happens we are in for profound political change."

No ‘vassal’

Melenchon, 65, says he doesn’t want to pull France out of the euro or the European Union, though like Le Pen he wants to overhaul EU treaties and impose political constraints on the European Central Bank -- and is threatening to walk away if he doesn’t get what he wants.

“Europe, we’ll change it or leave it," Melenchon said late Thursday on France 2 television, adding that he wants France to be a partner of the EU and Germany, not a “vassal."

Melenchon remains in fourth position with 18.5 percent support, according to Bloomberg’s composite of polls. That compares with 19.5 percent for Fillon, 22.5 percent for Le Pen and 24 percent for Macron.

But it’s Melenchon’s momentum that is striking. It raises the prospect, albeit still unlikely, of two anti-EU candidates making it into the runoff election.

What’s more, his plans to limit executive pay and restrict companies’ dividends may be encouraging some conservatives to swallow their objection to the financial scandals surrounding Fillon.

Antonio Barroso, a political analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London, says facing either Fillon or Melenchon would give Le Pen her best chance of victory. If Melenchon did contest the presidency with Le Pen, investors may favor the nationalist.

“Both Le Pen and Melenchon represent a risk for markets, but Melenchon would be more disruptive for the French economy than Le Pen", Frederic Leroux, global fund manager at Carmignac Gestion, said at a briefing in Paris Thursday.

France’s CAC 40 equities index rose on Thursday and the premium the French state pays to borrow over Germany fell as Macron’s lead in the polls strengthened. Still, investors may be overestimating the strength of Macron’s position, Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets U.K., said.

“Melenchon has recent momentum in his favor and Emmanuel Macron remains largely untested as a politician," Hewson said in a research note. Bloomberg

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