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Emmanuel Macron Emerges As Front-Runner In French Presidential Election


In France, the presidential campaign is in full swing, and it's a lot more exciting than many people thought it would be. A series of upsets has swept away familiar faces. As NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports, this spring's election is now an open race.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Until last week, mainstream-conservative candidate Francois Fillon looked like the next French president. It seemed the upright-family man and former prime minister couldn't be stopped but then came allegations that Fillon had employed his wife as a parliamentary aide over a long period of time and for a significant sum of money. That, in itself, is not illegal, but there seems to be little evidence she actually did any work. Fillon's poll numbers have been plummeting, and there have been calls for him to withdraw. Today, he fought back in a press conference carried live on French TV. Fillon said he had nothing to hide and would fight on.


FRANCOIS FILLON: (Through interpreter) Nothing can keep me from my goal of making France great again and giving French people reason to hope. I was chosen by millions of voters and these illegitimate accusations cannot reverse my candidacy.

BEARDSLEY: The French political landscape has been in complete upheaval. In just two months, two mainstays of French politics for the last three decades have been wiped from the scene.


NICOLAS SARKOZY: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Former President Nicolas Sarkozy told his supporters he'd return to private life after being trounced by Fillon in the conservative primary in November.



BEARDSLEY: A month later, Socialist President Francois Hollande told the nation he would not seek re-election after his ratings plummeted to just 4 percent. The Socialists have since chosen a candidate from the left wing of the party who political commentators say is unelectable. All this clears the way for another candidate.


EMMANUEL MACRON: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Thirty-nine-year-old Emmanuel Macron, the young and handsome former investment banker, resigned his position as Hollande's economy minister to launch his independent bid for president. Macron has never been elected to public office.



BEARDSLEY: Macron was cheered like a rock star over the weekend at a political rally in Lyon. He told the crowd that France is blocked by old-party politics, and he will remake the country. Political science Professor Corinne Mellul says Macron is a different kind of candidate.

CORINNE MELLUL: Emmanuel Macron was a complete unknown to the French public only three years ago. It might be part of the attraction. He's untested, untried. And so that we see something that we see elsewhere, which is voters turned off, disgusted by career-traditional politicians, et cetera.

BEARDSLEY: Melloul warns Macron's lack of experience could turn out to be a huge liability. But he's popular with young people and some older ones, as well. Retiree Jean-Claude Touya is picking up some papers in the news shop. He says France usually elects stuffy old politicians, and what's happening now is a miracle.

JEAN-CLAUDE TOUYA: (Through interpreter) Macron is going to win. He's going to be the youngest French president ever. He's intelligent. He's reasonable and up to now, he hasn't made any mistakes (laughter).

BEARDSLEY: Emmanuel Macron is now just a few points behind the current front runner, far-right leader Marine Le Pen. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.