By Elizabeth Pineau
TOULON, France (Reuters) – Eric Zemmour, a right-wing talk-show star who says Mohammed should be banned as a first name in France, may not yet officially be running in the 2022 presidential race but he is already unsettling confidants of President Emmanuel Macron.
Zemmour (63), who is a defendant in inciting hatred has been described as “candidate for the debate”, and quit his chat-show slot to follow electoral rules.
Zemmour, a polarizing figure that has made it a point to challenge the boundaries of political correctness and is currently climbing in voter polls despite never declaring himself a candidate.
He may win votes against Marine Le Pen and make the election more dynamic, even though the presidency appears impossible.
He has worked tirelessly to win centre-right voters in his second mandate. His goal was to undermine the main Les Republicains party, and create a run-off vote against Le Pen.
“I have been warning the Elysee since two months. A Macron close friend said that Zemmour was not good news. The candidate from the centre-right is the only candidate who can defeat Macron.
Zemmour launched his book, “France has Not Yet Said Its Final Word”, in Toulon. He criticized the European Union as “useless” and lamented the loss of French identity due to migration waves.
Zemmour portrays himself as an outsider who is in sync with an alienated middle-class and draws parallels in his book to former U.S. president Donald Trump.
Zemmour is a Paris-born child of Jewish Berbers. He emigrated from Algeria in 1950s. Zemmour advocates for France’s “refranchisation”.
Zemmour has stated that he will ban families from giving their children non-French names, and that he will outright ban religious symbols such as Islamic headscarves. These are obstacles to immigrants becoming French citizens.
Zemmour explained that French migrants from France must have the opportunity to decide who they are. The problem is simple: the French government and its leaders have refused to make this decision out of cowardice.
CHALLENGE FOR MACRON
His message resonated with those in the audience in Toulon.
His message resonated with the audience in Toulon. Do you think there are too many immigrants? Dany Becker, who had traveled several hours just to listen to Zemmour’s speech, said so. France would support him if there were referendums about many of these topics.
For months, polls showed that a runoff between Macron & Le Pen is the most probable scenario. This was without Zemmour. A challenger to Zemmour appears to be signalling that they will back him in round one.
Zemmour’s support will come mostly from Le Pen’s voters, which could allow the eventual centre-right candidate to enter the second round, where they might pose a greater threat than Macron.
According to election traditions, the left and the right often coalesce, even if reluctantly in a two-way race to keep the far right out.
Seven months prior to the April 10th first round, neither the centre-left nor the centre-right mainstream parties confirmed their candidate. Many big names are still waiting on the sidelines.
Zemmour successfully appealed one of many convictions for inciting hatred. Another trial is pending for comments he made last year about unaccompanied children migrants, calling them “thieves killers and rapists”.
Zemmour’s book launch was disrupted by a protestor who said Zemmour would bring about more division.
He paints a France that scares me. It is nationalism at any cost, divisions. “It is not the opposite of what should be uniting us, humanity,” she stated.