As France heads into the second round of its presidential election on Sunday, the incumbent President Emmanuel Macron had a heated exchange with his rival Marine Le Pen in the only televised debate between the two candidates.
What was the heat about?
In the debate, which was watched by more than 15 million viewers, Macron and Le Pen took on each other on issues that are important to French voters, including cost of living, immigration, Russia, climate change, and France’s membership of the European Union. The exchange, however, became tense on the issue of whether or not to ban the wearing of hijab in public.
How did that heat up the debate?
While Le Pen argues in favor of banning hijab in public as she says it is an instrument of oppressing muslim women by islamic extremists, Macron says the secularity of France, as stated in the constitution, means that the government should be neutral in religious matters, and banning the hijab negates that neutrality. Things got heated when Macron said banning the hijab would lead to a civil war.
Isn’t that too far?
Well, Le Pen expressed shock at the statement and accused Macron of inviting civil disobedience ahead of the potential passing of the law. Le Pen also argues that the economy has not been managed well by Macron as 70% of french citizens say that their living standard has dropped in the last five years. In response, Macron blames the economic woes on the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war.
The coast is not clear, yet, for either of the two candidates, though Macron has a slight lead in opinion polls. And while viewers were divided over which of the two candidates did better in the debate, the candidates have continued to woo voters ahead of the election on Sunday.