In final major push to voters, France's Le Pen appeals to history

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PERPIGNAN, France, April 7 (Reuters) - Marine Le Pen sought on Thursday to cast her possible election in historic terms as she made her final major push to become France's first female president before the country votes in the first round.

The far-right leader made her case before a group of 3,000 in a conference hall in Perpignan, a city in southwestern France bordering Spain and the largest city in the country controlled by a mayor from Le Pen's National Rassemblement party.

"Never in the history of the republic has a woman occupied the role of the head of state," Le Pen said. "A woman in the Elysee."

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Le Pen has surged in the polls in recent weeks and is expected to face off in the second round against President Emmanuel Macron, a centre-left candidate whose policymaking has drifted to the right, in a repeat of the 2017 election.

Macron, whose re-election was thought to be a foregone conclusion even a few weeks ago, still is ahead in the polls for the second-round match-up, but his lead is within the margin of error.

The first round of the election is on Sunday.

Before Le Pen's rally on Thursday, French and American pop music from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s blasted through the speakers as pictures of Le Pen greeting supporters, visiting French monuments and, occasionally, with a cat flashed on the screens behind the stage.

Le Pen, who has patiently worked to soften her image since the 2017 election in which she lost in the second round with about a third of the vote, said she would be a president for all of France.

She called for people who were considering abstaining to vote in the election, amid polls that indicate a record number of voters may eschew the ballot box.

She also emphasized her differences with Macron, as when she spoke about her proposal to allow people who start working at a younger age to retire earlier, in contrast with Macron, who has made pushing the retirement age to 65 a central plank of his platform. The current retirement age is 62.

The crowd heartily booed Le Pen's references to Macron. Occasionally she was cut off by the crowd with chants of "Marine President!"

But Le Pen also unapologetically maintained her long-time stances on immigration and law and order, calling for the creation of thousands of more places in prisons. She also said French people should receive priority for jobs and housing and said immigrants who come illegally to France should not be regularised.

"The government that works against the interests of the French people is finished," she said.

Isabelle Pereniguez, a 61-year-old retiree and longtime supporter of Le Pen, said she liked what she heard, especially regarding her stance on security and the role of women.

"I found it very clear and very fair," she said.

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Reporting by Makini Brice in Perpignan Editing by Matthew Lewis

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