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Anti-immigration TV personality threatens to displace Le Pen in French polls

Eric Zemmour, an anti-immigration television commentator, has surged in the latest opinion poll ahead of next year’s French presidential election, and threatens to displace far-right leader Marine Le Pen as the main candidate to challenge the incumbent Emmanuel Macron.

Zemmour garnered 13 per cent of voting intentions for the first round of the April election, up from 7 per cent when he was first included as a possible candidate three weeks ago. Le Pen has slumped to 16 per cent from as high as 28 per cent in the summer, according to the Harris Interactive poll published this week.

Although first-round support for Macron’s re-election remains steady at 23 per cent, and current polling shows he would still face Le Pen in the second round, Zemmour has in recent weeks refocused the French political debate around immigration, Islam and law and order, destabilising the campaigns of Le Pen and the possible candidates for the centre-right Les Républicains. Zemmour has yet to launch his candidacy officially.

“There is a risk of a radicalisation of the campaign,” said Jean-Yves Camus, an expert on extremist politics. “He’ll take some votes from the former supporters of [then centre-right candidate François] Fillon in 2017, and some from Marine Le Pen.”

The French left has been on the back foot since the “neither right nor left” Macron succeeded the Socialist François Hollande as president in 2017. Zemmour’s rise, aided by exposure on a primetime TV talk show on CNews — a channel described by critics as France’s Fox News — has accelerated a shift to the right in the country’s politics.

Zemmour has twice been convicted of racial or religious provocation. He has called for 2m foreigners to be expelled from France.

While the Macron government has criticised Zemmour’s views it has also nudged its policies in recent weeks to put the emphasis on restricting immigration and tackling crime.

On Tuesday government spokesman Gabriel Attal announced a sharp reduction in the number of visas France would grant to the north African countries of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco because they had refused to accept the return home of illegal immigrants from France.

Zemmour responded mockingly about the timing of the move seven months before the French election, saying people such as he had long proposed putting pressure on foreign governments but had been dismissed as extremists. “Suddenly the moderate government of Emmanuel Macron adopts the methods of extremists,” he said.

Gérald Darmanin, interior minister, said an interview in the rightwing newspaper Le Figaro on Wednesday that the government had closed mosques and associations he said were controlled by Islamist radicals. “Never has a government done so much against political Islam,” he said.

Other politicians have joined the fray. Le Pen, who has always opposed mass immigration but has sought to “detoxify” her party and its reputation for racism, this week called for a referendum on citizenship, identity and the control of immigration. Michel Barnier, one of the leading possible candidates for the centre-right LR, has called for an immigration moratorium of three to five years.

Zemmour has overtaken all the minor candidates of right and left in the polls, including Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist mayor of Paris. His 13 per cent puts him in equal fourth place with Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the far-left La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party and within reach of second place.


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