France’s Macron, who is running for a second term, faces angry voters

MULHOUSE, France (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron faces a more difficult-than-expected battle for re-election has finally gotten to the campaign trail — and that doesn’t always prove to be welcome.

But he is not running away from angry voters, but engaging in lively, sometimes confrontational debates. As he and right-wing nationalist rival Marine Le Pen qualified on Sunday for the April 24 presidential race in France, Macron went to the fray to explain his policies and persuade people to hand him a second term. Looked eager to try.

He was asked tough questions during a visit to the eastern city of Mulhouse on Tuesday.

“Why didn’t you help the poorest?”

“Why are hospitals suffering from a lack of beds and a shortage of health workers?”

“How can you propose to raise the retirement age from 62 to 65 when so many people are unemployed?”

The 44-year-old leader appeared determined to explain his policies in detail – but sometimes became impatient when people continued to oppose him.

Ahead of Sunday’s first-round presidential election, which had 12 candidates, Macron abandoned most campaign activities, focusing his time at the Elysee Presidential Palace on Russia’s diplomatic efforts to end the war in Ukraine. Domestic critics denounced the perceived lack of debate in the French presidential campaign.

Now the role of the candidate is done. Macron is considered the favorite in the polls, but Le Pen has narrowed the gap significantly since 2017, when he trounced him for the same presidency.

Macron on Monday visited an economically vulnerable region of northern France, which is considered a stronghold of Le Pen. The next day, he visited the eastern cities of Mulhouse and Strasbourg, where the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who had come on the third Sunday, received a majority of the first round of votes.

Upon reaching Mulhouse, Macron literally ran towards the little crowd waiting for him. He met some supporters, but in anger, also disappointed the workers of a nearby public hospital, who had come to challenge him.

“We’re tired,” some of the nurses told him. “Improve our working conditions!”

A 61-year-old health care worker said he worked for 30 years, but is earning only 1,885 euros ($2,051) a month.

“I am not thinking of myself. I am thinking of my children, my grandchildren,” he said, explaining his vote.

Macron referred to changes made by his government amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including a marginal increase in wages for hospital workers.

“Has your income increased?” He asked.

“We don’t feel the impact,” replied the man.

Another health care worker asked him about hospitals “losing beds” as the pandemic is still going on.

“I know, that’s the challenge we are facing,” Macron acknowledged, explaining that the issue is about a lack of trained hospital staff, aggravated by a situation where many French neighbors Germany and Want to work in Switzerland where wages are high.

“Two years ago, I made commitments…and the salary was increased. And 183 euros ($199) per month, you can’t say it’s nothing,” Macron insisted.

Another major obstacle repeatedly stood in Macron’s way: changes to his planned pension. Macron wants to raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 65, which he argues is needed so that France can continue to finance pensions. Le Pen says she will keep her retirement age at 62. The issue prompted mass protests in late 2019, and Macron then had to postpone his plans amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Macron said, ‘We should work for a long time. “It’s not true that we can continue to finance our social model if[the retirement age]doesn’t turn back.”

He reiterated that retirement changes would be implemented very slowly until 2031 and opened the door to softening reform, as he seeks to attract voters who chose other candidates in the first round.

Le Pen’s supporters attribute his months of campaigning in the provinces of France to his strong first-round performance. But as Macron finally joined the fray, he tried to differentiate between his campaigns, criticizing candidates who “never visit opponents.”

“I’m not just going to meet people who like me,” he said.

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Follow all AP stories on the 2022 French presidential election

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