PARIS, March 21 French centrist Emmanuel Macron has slightly increased his lead on far right leader Marine Le Pen in the first round of the French presidential election, an Elabe poll of voting intentions showed on Tuesday.
Europhiles, meanwhile, have been banking on centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and his staunchly pro-EU agenda.
He was referring to a snap poll that showed 29 percent of viewers thought Macron was the most convincing, ahead of all his rivals.
The election is set to be one of the most uncertain in decades with Macron, an independent who has never run for office, and Le Pen, a far-right Nationalist, dominating the race.
The debate covered a wide assortment of issues, like education, security, unemployment, ecology, work guarantees, the defense and institutional reforms, which allowed politicians to put forward their proposals, in a discussion where presenting their projects was the most important issue. Alluding to her top competitor Macron, who had met with German chancellor Angela Merkel the previous week, Le Pen said she didn't "want to be Mrs Merkel's vice chancellor". 'When I have something to say, I say it clearly'.
While they were feisty, conservative candidate Francois Fillon was noticeably and unusually restrained. "You are failing (voters) by twisting the truth", Macron told Le Pen when she talked about a rise of radical Islam in France and said Macron was in favour of burkinis, a full-body swimsuit worn by some Muslim women, which caused a lot of controversy in France last summer.
Polls show that far right leader Marine Le Pen could come first in the April 23 first round, but would lose heavily to Macron in the runoff.
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Le Pen is hoping to ride the wave of populism that led British voters to choose to quit the European Union and swept Donald Trump to power in the U.S., though the failure of the Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders's party to perform more strongly in his country's general election last week was a setback to her hopes.
France's turbulent presidential campaign remained in focus for global investors, who have been concerned about the potential for a populist backlash following last year's surprise votes for Brexit in Britain and for Trump in the United States. Later, she attacked Macron for being a former investment banker, then again on foreign policy, shouting over him: "What you're saying means nothing".
Le Pen said she wanted to take back control of French borders to "stop immigration, legal and illegal".
Hamon, for his part, took issue with Le Pen's claim that public schools are wracked by violence, calling her remarks "nauseating".
With French presidential campaign flagging and haunted by fraud probes, the top five of presidential hopefuls tried to reach out disillusioned and undecided voters to help them make up their minds five weeks before the election.
A total of 11 candidates are running for president.
Candidates will await the polls in the coming days to fully know who were the real winners and losers from the TV debate.