French candidates spar over corruption in debate

French candidates spar over corruption in debate

Independent candidate Emmanuel Macron, who is neck-and-neck with Le Pen in opinion polls for the first round, also slammed Le Pen's European Union plans.

But Macron warned Monday that commentators were still underestimating Le Pen, saying those who said she stood no chance were "the same people who said (Donald) Trump couldn't win".

Unlike the first debate, Tuesday's featured all of the candidates ahead for the first time in French history.

Centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen still hold a firm lead over the pack in France's presidential election, polls show, with a surging left-winger becoming a wild card in the race.

That latest polls show Le Pen is neck-and-neck with Macron in the first round, each getting about a quarter of the votes and Fillon a distant third.

Other anti-EU nationalists such as Francois Asselineau, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan and Jacques Cheminade, as well as farmer-politician Jean Lassalle, had a rare showcase on the national stage.

Le Pen seemed convincing only for 11% of the French, that in essence corresponds to her electoral base. Le Pen has pushed to normalize the ultra-conservative National Front and scour racism and anti-Semitism from its ranks. Certainly, in the U.S. few took Donald Trump seriously as a candidate even just one year ago at the outset of the Republican Party presidential primary elections.

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In a recent interview with Xinhua, Sciences Po University professor Thomas Guenole saw Macron as "a possible victor by default", although the candidate has never held an elected post and "lacks charisma and is proposing a rather hazy right-left compromise".

The most telling clash between the frontrunners came at the end of the first section when 39-year-old Macron took on what is considered one of Le Pen's vulnerabilities - her plans to scrap the euro and revert to the franc.

Le Pen said she had "not voted for the text" in the European Parliament, but did not specify that she had only abstained.

The debate heated up when the candidates discussed the "moralization" of French politics. "If they don't do so and if I am elected president, there will be a parliamentary commission of enquiry", Fillon said.

Le Pen's odds have not changed in a scenario where she is pitted against Francois Fillon, a conservative from The Republicans party, in the second-round voting. Most French polls show him as the likely victor in a runoff with Le Pen.

Le Pen is embroiled in a set of corruption allegations, along with her anti-immigration National Front party.

The French economy has not recovered since the economic crisis of 2008, and Hollande's policy of imposing high tax rates has caused a capital flight to Britain, Belgium, and other low-tax countries rather than bringing additional revenue to France.

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