French President and La Republique en Marche (LREM) party candidate for re-election Emmanuel Macron wears boxing gloves as he meets a local boxer at the Auguste Delaune stadium on April 21, 2022 during a campaign visit in Saint-Denis, outside Paris. Image Credit: AFP

Paris: French presidential hopefuls Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen kicked off a final flurry of campaigning Friday, hoping to mobilise millions of hesitant voters before the weekend media blackout imposed for Sunday’s contest.

Both candidates launched attacks in interviews before a heavy schedule of walkabouts, with Le Pen insisting that opinion polls giving her rival the lead would be proved wrong.

A win for Macron “is not inevitable,” Le Pen told CNews television. “He calls millions of French voters the ‘far right’... and for him it’s an insult.”

“Never have I expressed even the slightest bit of hostility toward Emmanuel Macron’s voters,” she said, accusing the centrist incumbent of “not liking the French” and failing to appreciate the need for tougher measures to protect low-income households from rising prices.

Macron for his part said Le Pen was trying to mask an authoritarian “extreme right” platform that stigmatises Muslims with a plan to outlaw headscarves in public and “to abandon the founding texts of our Europe... that protect individuals, human rights and freedoms.”

“Millions of our fellow citizens have moved toward her party and project because she gives the impression that she has an answer for the problem of purchasing power. But her answers aren’t viable,” he told France Inter radio.

Le Pen later posed for selfies at a market in the northern Channel town of Etaples, while Macron was headed for Figeac in southern France to discuss “rural issues and offshoring,” an advisor told AFP.

Starting at midnight, neither candidate will be allowed to give interviews, distribute flyers or hold campaign events until 8:00 pm (1800 GMT) on Sunday, when initial estimates of results start coming in. Publishing opinion polls will also be banned.

French far-right leader and presidential candidate Marine Le Pen joins her hands as she campaigns at a street market Friday, April 22, 2022 in Etaples, northern France. Image Credit: AP

Low-turnout wildcard

Analysts say abstention rates could reach 25 to 30 per cent, in particular among left-wing voters unhappy with Macron’s pro-business agenda and plans to push back the retirement age to 65 from 62.

Far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who scored a close third-place finish in the first round on April 10, has pointedly refused to urge his millions of followers to block Le Pen by voting for the former investment banker.

“It’s been eight months that I’ve been trying to pull people away from this abstentionism,” Le Pen told CNews. “I want to be the president of harmony... who reconciles the people with their leaders.”

Spring school vacations will also be in full swing across much of the country this weekend, increasing the chances that many voters won’t cast ballots - and adding a wildcard to the final outcome.

A highly anticipated TV debate between the two rivals on Wednesday has not appeared to change their momentum in the polls, with most showing intentions to vote for Macron at 53 to 56 per cent against 44 to 47 for Le Pen.

That would be a much closer result than in 2017, when the same candidates faced off but Macron carried the day with 66 percent to 34 percent - a sign for analysts that Le Pen’s efforts to soften and “de-demonise” her party’s image have paid off among a large part of the electorate.

If he wins, Macron would be the first French president to win re-election since Jacques Chirac in 2002, when Marine Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, rocked the political establishment by reaching the second-round run-off.