French president Emmanuel Macron announced on Thursday that he will aim for a second term in elections next month, with Russia’s war in Ukraine likely to overshadow the campaign but boost his chances.
Macron formally announced his bid to become the first French president to be re-elected in 20 years in a letter to the French people published online by numerous news sites.
There has been little tension over the 44-year-old’s intentions, but the announcement has been repeatedly delayed due to the crisis in Eastern Europe, which has seen Macron play a prominent role in diplomatic talks.
“I am a candidate to invent, together with you, and facing the challenges of this century, a unique French and European response,” he said.
“I am a candidate to defend our values threatened by the disturbances of the world,” he added.
Macron acknowledged that the elections would not be normal because of Russia’s war against Ukraine.
“Of course, because of the context, I won’t be able to campaign as I would have liked,” he said, promising to “explain our project with clarity and dedication.”
Ahead of Friday’s deadline for candidates to run for office, polls show him to lead in the April 10 and 24 two-round elections, with the war focusing attention on foreign policy rather than domestic issues which his opponents prefer.
“In a crisis, The Vanir-exoduss always go behind the flag and go behind the head of state,” said Antoine Bristielle, a public opinion expert at the Jean-Jaures Foundation, a think tank in Paris.
“The other candidates are inaudible. Everyone is talking about the invasion in all media,” he told AFP.
A ruling party MP this week told AFP that the Ukraine crisis meant that Macron’s rivals were “boxing on their own”, while several polls have shown his personal ratings are rising.
The former investment banker admitted in a national speech on Wednesday evening that the crisis had “affected our democratic life and the election campaign”, but promised that “an important democratic debate for the country” would take place.
Voter surveys are currently tipping the centrist to win the first round of the election by 26 percent and then triumph in the second round on April 24, regardless of his opponent.
– Rivals –
After five tumultuous years in office, Macron’s biggest challenge comes from opponents on his right who accuse him of being lax on immigration, gentle on crime and slow on defending French culture.
These include conservative Republican Party Valerie Pecresse, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and anti-Islam media pundit Eric Zemmour.
On the left are four regular candidates, who are expected to split the votes and lead to all of them being eliminated in the first round.
Socialist Party candidate Anne Hidalgo said the announcement was “no surprise”.
“The democratic debate, of one program versus another that I have been advocating for months, can finally take place,” she said in a statement.
Macron’s camp has been looking for the right time to launch his candidacy since early February, but the crisis in Ukraine has made his agenda full of trips abroad or talks with other leaders.
On Thursday, he spoke for the third time in a week with Russian President Vladimir Putin and again with Ukrainian counterpart President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Macron showed a tone of humility, adding in his letter that “we don’t have everything right”.
“There are choices that I would no doubt have made differently after the experience I had with you,” he said.
A recent poll by the Elabe group, published on March 1, showed confidence in Macron’s “ability to tackle the country’s key problems” had risen by as much as five points in a month.
Another by the Harris Interactive group showed 58 percent of French people were positive about his handling of the crisis in Ukraine
The president’s allies are quietly confident, but analysts warn that many voters remain undecided and that sentiment could turn sharply in the final weeks of the campaign.