Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo on Sunday launched her bid for the French presidency, stressing green and social issues, while far-right leader Marine Le Pen also set out her vision for the top job as the race to unseat French President Emmanuel Macron gathered pace.
Hidalgo, 62, is one of a handful of candidates from both the right and left bidding to become France’s first female president.
Macron has yet to confirm that he is to seek a second term, but is widely expected to run again. Polls suggest he and Le Pen would top the first round of voting in April next year, and Macron would then beat Le Pen in a run-off, in a repeat of 2017.
Hidalgo is favored to win the nomination of her Socialist party later this month, but faces an uphill battle to unite the fractured left behind her candidacy.
She chose the dockyards of the Socialist-run city of Rouen to make her pitch for a low-carbon economy, and more spending on education, housing and health.
“I want all children in France to have the same opportunities I had,” she said, crediting the French school system with helping her overcome the “class prejudice” she suffered as the child of Spanish immigrants — her father was an electrician and her mother a seamstress — in a housing estate in Lyon.
Hidalgo enters the race as a polarizing figure whose campaign to squeeze vehicles out of Paris and green the city has divided residents.
She has emphasized her record as a capable manager who steered Paris through a series of crises, from a string of terror attacks to the “yellow vest” riots of 2018 and 2019, and the fire that ravaged Notre-Dame cathedral.
Shortly after her announcement, the anti-immigration, anti-EU Le Pen set out the main themes of her third campaign for president in a speech in the southern city of Frejus.
In typical barnstorming mode, Le Pen told a crowd of flag-waving supporters that she would clean up “parts of France that have been Talibanised” — a reference to the presence of radical Islamists in some housing estates.
She also made overtures to the many thousands who stage weekly protests against the COVID-19 “health pass,” which requires people to show proof of vaccination or a negative test to get served in restaurants, take long-distance trains and a host of other services.
Le Pen, who is campaigning as the defender of French “liberty,” called it “a disproportionate violation of the right to freedom.”
Polls suggest Hidalgo would garner only 7 to 9 percent in the first round of voting for president in April next year if picked to represent the Socialists.
She is hoping to boost that score by tapping into the growing climate activism of the younger generation.
Both Hidalgo and Le Pen accused Macron of “arrogance” — one of the accusations that underpinned the “yellow vest” revolt — and they stressed their commitment to women’s rights.
Le Pen vowed to make the streets safe for women to walk “at any time of day or night, and in any neighborhood.”
Hidalgo said she would push for gender pay equality.
Le Pen’s combative rhetoric masks disquiet in her National Rally party after its poor showings in regional elections in June.
Le Pen could also be hobbled by a rival far-right candidacy from TV pundit and author Eric Zemmour.
Zemmour, who has built up a loyal following with diatribes against migration and the Muslim headscarf, is rumored to be planning to use a forthcoming book tour to throw his hat in the ring.
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