By Brian Love
PARIS France's presidential race took yet another surprise turn on Thursday as centrist Emmanuel Macron teamed up with a veteran in the hope of beating far-right leader Marine Le Pen and winning power at the age of 39.Macron, a fresh-faced ex-investment banker who has never held elected office, met Francois Bayrou, who has run for president three times but who said on Wednesday night he would back Macron rather than enter the race again himself.Two new opinion polls released as they met showed Macron neck-and-neck with mainstream right-winger Francois Fillon. It remains to be seen whether further polls will show Macron's score boosted by the alliance with Bayrou.The BVA and Harris Interactive polls both continued to show Le Pen winning round one of the election on April 23 but losing a May 7 runoff against either Macron or Fillon. The BVA poll showed Macron beating Le Pen comfortably, by 61 percent to 39 percent, in the runoff vote.If the scandal-tainted Fillon is left in the second round against Le Pen, who is also mired in financial controversy, he would win with 55 percent versus her 45 percent.
A separate Harris Interactive poll also had Le Pen leading in the April 23 first round, but losing a runoff against Macron with 40 percent to his 60. Fillon would get 57 percent to Le Pen's 43 percent, it showed.SCANDALS
The campaigns of both Le Pen, leader of the anti-euro, anti-immigrant National Front, and of Fillon, a former prime minister, have been shaken by investigations into allegations that they misused public money. Both have denied wrongdoing.Fillon, 62, was once the election frontrunner but is now engulfed in a scandal over salaries paid to his wife and children out of public funds for work they are alleged to have not carried out. He says they did the work for which they were paid.Le Pen is facing accusations she paid her chief of staff and bodyguard illicitly from European Parliament funds that she is now being pressed by the assembly to repay.
Macron could benefit from his cleaner image as well as from Bayrou's endorsement, which has cheered investors nervous about France's economic prospects under Le Pen, who wants to return to a national currency and ask voters if, like the British, they want to quit the European Union.Polls have suggested that Bayrou, 65, has the support of about five percent of French voters, and his backing for Macron could prove crucial in pushing the centrist into the runoff."These developments would appear to reinforce our view that Macron looks most likely to win the presidential election," said JP Morgan economist Raphael Brun-Aguerre.Macron served under Socialist President Francois Hollande as economy minister, deregulating Sunday trading and coach bus transport. He says he wants to transcend the left-right divide in French politics. (Additional reporting by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Andrew Roche)
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Updated Date: Feb 23, 2017 23:02:12 IST