PARIS / AP
France’s presidential race this year is upending every political assumption that has governed the country for decades.
And now Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old former economy minister who is running an independent, centrist campaign, has a real chance to become France’s next president in the country’s two-round April-May vote.
Among the startling events: an incumbent president is not running. His prime minister did not win the Socialist primary. The far right is surging. The conservative front-runner who vowed to slash government spending has seen his chances plummet after giving his wife and children well-paid jobs for years. Jealous rivals call Macron a guru with no substance. Macron, who plans to present a budget for the five-year presidential term next week and a platform later, mostly promises the French a better future â€” and that may be enough.
“Some people think we are a sect. Welcome,” Macron joked in front of hundreds of supporters at the Bobino theater in Paris.
Recent polls show Macron could be among the two top contenders to emerge from the April 23 ballot and advance to the presidential runoff on May 7, where he would be in a good position to win against his expected opponent, Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front. A former investment banker with impressive academic credentials, Macron is young, outspoken and sometimes theatrical. He speaks fluent English and is very familiar with social media. Macron backs free-market, pro-European policies and litters his speeches with references to mythology, philosophy or literature.
Macron became Socialist President Francois Hollande’s economic adviser in 2012 and two years later, his economy minister. Last year he launched his own centrist political movement En Marche (“In Motion”). Conservative rival Francois Fillon and far-right politician Florian Philippot of the National Front recently compared Macron to a “guru.”
Fillon, the former favorite, has seen his popularity sink following revelations about well-paid â€” and possibly fake â€” political jobs that he gave his wife, son and daughter. Fillon admits the practice was legal at the time but is “unacceptable” now. Prosecutors are investigating.
Fillon has criticized Macron’s “political adventure without a program” but Macron told the Journal du Dimanche that politics are “mystical.”