Opponents of France’s far-right plan demonstrate as election campaign kicks off last week

Demonstrations are expected across France on Saturday as opponents of far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen seek to form a united front to prevent her winning a runoff against incumbent President Emmanuel Macron on April 24.

Police have warned of possible incidents as protesters gather in around 30 towns.

Macron, a pro-European Union centrist, won the presidency in 2017 after easily beating Le Pen when voters rallied with him in the runoff to keep the far right out of power.

This year’s first round of voting last Sunday set up the same battle, but Macron faces a much tougher challenge.

He is slightly ahead in the opinion polls, but ahead of the April 10 first round, Le Pen managed to tap into anger over the cost of living and the perception that Macron is out of touch with day-to-day hardships. That saw her finish with 23.1% of the vote to Macron’s 27.85%.

However, she appeared more shaken this week as attention turned to her platform and opinion polls showed Macron extending his lead. An IPSOS-Sopra-Steria poll on Friday showed the president winning the second round with 56% of the vote.

Macron has won the support of former presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande. Hundreds of celebrities and sports figures have also backed him to prevent Le Pen from coming to power.

Le Pen, who is anti-immigration and eurosceptic, has sought in recent years to soften his image and that of his National Rally party. Opponents including Macron said his platform was full of lies and false promises – a charge Le Pen dismissed.

“The far right is once again in the second round of the presidential election bolstered by a level of support never seen before. We refuse to see him gain power,” the League for Human Rights said in a joint statement announcing the protests. Dozens of other rights groups, unions and associations have co-signed the call to demonstrate.

“By rejecting Marine Le Pen, it is a question of preventing the advent of a project which would destroy the rule of law and the social-democratic and united republic that we defend every day”, indicates the press release.

With a fragmented and undecided electorate, the election will likely be won by the candidate who can go beyond their camp and convince more voters that the other option would be far worse.

For decades, a “republican front” of voters on all sides rallying behind a mainstream candidate has helped keep the far right out of power.

But Macron, whose sometimes abrasive style and right-wing policies have upset many voters, can no longer automatically count on that.

Anti-Macron protesters will also gather in central Paris on Saturday. Speaking to BFM TV, Louis Aliot, a prominent member of the National Rally, dismissed protests against the far right.

“Mr Macron has broken society for the last five years and many of these people have protested against this. Do you really think people are idiots? he said.

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