Campaigning for France’s 2022 presidential election has officially begun, with new rules meant to give all 12 candidates a fair chance to be heard by voters.
The launch came as a row erupted over far-right supporters of Éric Zemmour shouting “Macron assassin” at a rally he said drew 100,000 people in Paris on Sunday.
Valérie Pécresse, the candidate for the center-right Les Républicains, was among those who criticized Zemmour for letting the crowd continue to chant.
“I will fight the outgoing president with all my strength, but letting an opponent be called an assassin is dangerous for the republic. It’s definitely not good! It’s not my France”, Pécresse tweeted.
Christophe Castaner, president of the ruling LREM group in the National Assembly, said Zemmour was “irresponsible” for allowing the chants to continue. Zemmour’s team said their candidate didn’t hear the crowd.
At the opening of the official campaign, the latest OpinionWay poll for the French financial newspaper Les Echos showed Emmanuel Macron at 28% of the vote in the first round, followed by the far right Marine Le Pen at 21%. Behind them Jean-Luc Mélenchon rose to 14%, with Pécresse at 11% and Zemmour at 10%.
Polls suggest Macron would comfortably win a runoff against Le Pen, but leading political scientists have warned voters against assuming the outcome is a foregone conclusion and not voting.
With less than two weeks to go, Dominique Reynié, the boss of Fondapol, an influential think tank, said anything could happen.
Many of the 12 candidates have been campaigning for months, but the final fortnight before the first round of voting on April 10 sees the introduction of tougher restrictions.
These include equal television and radio airtime given to each candidate, regardless of their performance in the opinion polls.
Since January 1, broadcasters are only required to ensure that candidates receive airtime according to their “political status”, based on their recent polls and previous election results.
However, from Monday, the French audiovisual authority (Arcom) will ensure that each candidate – regardless of their position in the polls – receives the same airtime.
Macron has a clear advantage with France in the presidency of the European Union and its high-profile attempts to mediate between Russia and Ukraine. Arcom said only his statements relating to the “political debate” in France would be taken into account and not those related to his role as president of the country or of the EU.
Candidates are also encouraged to send voters a profession of faith (profession of faith) explaining why they should be elected; the letters are paid for by the state. An estimated 100 million of these letters are distributed over the two rounds of the election at a cost that is expected to exceed €64m (£54m). The state also allocates money to each candidate to do a short political show to be aired on public television during prime time.
The official launch of the campaign also means election posters can be put up outside polling stations, including town halls, schools and other public buildings. Each candidate has their own council.
The campaign is paused at midnight on the Friday before the vote – that is to say, April 8 in the French overseas territories and April 9 in mainland France – during which time no polls or electoral campaign cannot be broadcast before the results of the first round are known. The cycle then continues until midnight on the Friday before the second round vote on April 24.