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Macron’s conservative rival under pressure after rally

By AFP
14 February 2022   |   11:24 am
French conservative presidential candidate Valerie Pecresse on Monday defended her performance at her first campaign rally, after coming under fire both for failing to inspire supporters and for adopting language used by the far right.

French conservative presidential candidate Valerie Pecresse on Monday defended her performance at her first campaign rally, after coming under fire both for failing to inspire supporters and for adopting language used by the far right.

Pecresse, a veteran politician who is one of President Emmanuel Macron’s three main challengers on the right, acknowledged to RTL radio she was “more at ease when speaking directly to the public” than at a podium in front of 6,000 people.

“If you want orators, there’s plenty of them in the campaign. I’m someone who gets things done,” added greater Paris region chief and former minister Pecresse, complaining that “no-one looks at” her detailed manifesto for the April vote.

She has faced disappointment from her Republicans camp over the weekend rally, supposed to re-launch the campaign after a string of high-profile defections to Macron and failure to outstrip her far-right competitors, Eric Zemmour and Marine Le Pen.

A former higher education and budget minister, Pecresse won the Republicans nomination on a platform she described as “one-third Margaret Thatcher and two-thirds Angela Merkel”.

Polls show her having the best chance of all Macron’s rivals of beating him if she makes it to the second round of the election on April 24, but her failure to energize conservative voters has cast doubt over her chances of setting up a duel with the former banker.

Recent voter surveys have shown her support slipping while Zemmour and Le Pen hold up.

In TV appearances, senior Republicans figures vaunted Pecresse’s performance on Sunday.

But one fellow former minister under Sarkozy told broadcaster BFMTV anonymously that Pecresse “didn’t seem to know how to use the teleprompters or play with the crowd.”

Media have reported harsh criticism of Pecresse in private from Sarkozy himself, and the former president — still a crucial voice on the mainstream right — has yet to formally back the candidate.

‘Great replacement‘ –
As well as criticism from the right, Pecresse has been attacked from the left for her use of the phrase “great replacement” in Sunday’s speech.

The conspiratorial belief that white Europeans are being deliberately supplanted by non-white immigrants has inspired extreme-right figures like Christchurch mass shooter Brenton Tarrant.

Pecresse claimed that when she said that France could avoid both “a great relegation”, meaning a decline in France’s global standing, and “great replacement”, she was attacking Zemmour for his use of the latter phrase.

“That means that I won’t resign myself to Zemmour’s theories and extreme-right theories, because I know another path is possible,” she told RTL.

“It’s something I’ve been saying for months, so I don’t even understand this uproar,” Pecresse added.

But she also reiterated her claim that there are “zones of non-France” in the country due to immigration.

Socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo — herself struggling in the polls — said Sunday that the conservative had “crossed yet another Rubicon” by adopting the language of extreme-right conspiracy theories.

Meanwhile activist organisation SOS Racisme said in a statement that “Valerie Pecresse’s words are not worthy of a major contender for the presidency of the Republic”.

“Valerie Pecresse is wrong to want to send signals to radicalised voters because those voters will never get enough hate to satisfy them,” SOS Racisme’s president Dominique Sopo said.

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