France 2017
Centrist French Contender Throws in with Macron

The unpredictable French presidential election has taken a new turn, with centrist French politician François Bayrou dropping his own ambitions to ally with independent candidate Emmanuel Macron. Reuters:

The announcement by Francois Bayrou, 65, a former education minister who has run for president three times and polled 9 percent of the vote when he stood in 2012, could tip the odds in favor of Macron getting into a runoff against far-right leader Marine Le Pen. […]

“I have decided to offer Emmanuel Macron an alliance. The danger is too big we must change things,” he told a news conference, describing his decision as a “sacrifice”. […]

Opinion polls put Macron neck-and-neck with conservative Francois Fillon, a former prime minister, to get into the runoff against Le Pen, head of the anti-immigrant and anti-European Union National Front.

Bayrou’s announcement could be just the boost that Macron’s campaign needs at a time when the independent candidate’s surge had stalled over controversial remarks about France’s colonial past and his outreach to gay-marriage opponents. None of Macron’s competitors are in ideal shape at the moment: Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon has failed to gain traction and is currently polling at 5 percent, the conservative François Fillon is struggling to regain lost ground and overcome a nepotism scandal, and the National Front’s Marine Le Pen is embroiled in her own scandal involving the misuse of EU funds to pay her assistants. Today, Le Pen’s bodyguard and chief of staff were detained in connection with the affair.

This is not to say that Macron has a smooth path to victory. He is still neck-and-neck with Fillon, and polls before Bayrou’s announcement showed that Fillon was regaining the edge. Le Pen, meanwhile, has held on to recent electoral gains and remains a shoo-in to make the run-off—although polls show her losing decisively to Macron, and by slightly narrower margins to Fillon.

Barring a cataclysmic event, then, the race between Macron and Fillon is the one to watch, ahead of the first round of voting on April 23. Macron’s chances are looking up at the moment, and the jittery French bond market, which has been spooked by the prospect of a Marine Le Pen presidency, has already started rebounding after Bayrou’s announcement. But in France’s most open-ended presidential race in decades, there could still be a surprise or two in store.

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