The first televised debate for the French presidential campaign opened Wednesday with intense discussions, as the top five candidates were trying to appeal to swaying voters.

Meanwhile, six lesser-known contenders sought to expand their influence under the spotlight ahead of the first electoral round to be held in 19 days. Focusing on unemployment, economy, security and terrorism, the four-hour debate turned heated when the top two candidates lashed out at each other with the centrist Emmanuel Macron saying the far-rightist Marine Le Pen’s protectionist project would trigger “an economic war.” But Le Pen retorted that her main rival was “old fossil” with false renewal.

Macron accused Le Pen of facilitating the decline of French purchasing power and an economic war. “Nationalism is war. I know it. I come from a region that is full of graveyards,” he said, referring to his hometown Somme in north France, a battlefield in World War I.”You shouldn’t pretend to be something new when you are speaking like old fossils that are at least 50 years old,” Le Pen hit back at him. Later in the debate, Le Pen came under the attack of left winger candidate Philippe Poutou over the investigation of European fund misuse. “The National Front which claims to be anti-system is protected by the system itself and by parliamentary immunity. When we are summoned by the police, we go. We do not have extra immunity,” Poutou said.

Rejecting allegations over paying her party staff with funds from the European parliament, Le Pen said she was a victim of “political prosecution”. “Is this an interrogation? I thought this was a debate but it looks like the prosecutors are here,” she said angrily. The Elabe snap poll, conducted immediately after the debate ended in the early hours of Wednesday, showed that firebrand leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon, a veteran of France’s political circuit, took first place as the most convincing performer while the far-right leader Le Pen lagged in the fourth behind Macron and Conservative Francois Fillon. The poll also showed that 23 percent of those surveyed thought Macron had the best political program among all 11 candidates.It has not been determined if a final debate on April 20 would take place, as several candidates said it was scheduled too close to the election itself.

Source: Xinhua/NewsGhana.com.gh