The race for the French presidency is entering its final stretch, and one of the most critical turns – the last TV debate before Sunday’s vote is to be held tonight.
With polls suggesting the abstention rate could be the highest ever, around 19 to 22 per cent, the face-off could prove crucial for Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen to win over voters.
The debate itself will last two hours, be shown on three channels, (TF1, France 2 and BFMTV) as well as being broadcast on several radio stations.
“I have never seen this, it’s total confusion. Even for me, personally, I will only decide when I enter the voting booth,” said a 62-year-old Parisian taxi driver. It’s a sentiment echoed around the country.
French politics has been turned upside down by the presidential campaign, ending up with two non-establishment candidates to choose from. Both promise to revive France: Le Pen on a populist anti-immigration platform, and Macron via ultra-liberalism.
“It’s a stalemate. From both sides, it will end badly, there will be social turmoil, a lot of protests, no one will be satisfied. I’m a little pessimistic,” said one voter in Paris.
At recent protest marches a vote for centrist frontrunner Macron or far-right Le Pen was described as a choice between ‘cholera and the plague’.
While Le Pen is seeking to paint Macron as the continuation of the unpopular Socialist president, Macron may seek to capitalise on his rival’s flip-flopping over withdrawing from the euro, to win over a pessimistic public in tonight’s debate.
More details on tonight’s debate
Who goes first?
After drawing lots, Marine Le Pen will open the debate, Macron will conclude.
It is scheduled to kick-off at 9pm local time and last two hours and twenty minutes, but organisers say it could run over.
Who will moderate?
It came as a bit of a surprise that the usual journalists were overlooked in favour of Christophe Jakubyszyn from TF1 and Nathalie Saint-Cricq from France 2. France’s broadcasting regulator CSA asked for one female and one male presenter instead of two male presenters.
What is the plan of attack?
Sitting across a table measuring 2.5m, according to Macron’s camp, he will highlight the ‘vagueness’ of her programme, especially on the euro. While Le Pen’s camp say she is working on some ‘knock-out blows’.
Almost two in ten voters are still undecided.