Marine Le Pen abandons controversial hijab policy as polls show Emmanuel Macron extending his lead

The candidates are currently preparing for a prime-time debate that has historically proved decisive for any would-be president. Macron will defend his record over the past five years. It will be a rematch of their debate in 2017 at the same stage of the campaign, which proved disastrous for Ms Le Pen, particularly on the economy. As this is her third run for the presidential office, her team said she is better prepared.

Ms Le Pen wants to hold constitutional referendums on tougher immigration laws and plans to add a “national priority” principle for French citizens for jobs and welfare benefits. Ms Le Pen said in an interview during the week that citizens will be able to initiate referendums, including on the death penalty.

“She is implying that once elected, she believes she’s above the Constitution since she can decide not to respect it by changing the rules,” Mr Macron told France Culture radio in an interview published on Monday.

The Rassemblement National (National Rally) programme also includes a plan to ban dual nationals from taking jobs in public office and in state-run companies like public hospitals, the national railway or the national energy company EDF.

Instead of focusing on immigration and the threat of Islamist extremism, Ms Le Pen is now insisting mainly on her plans to tackle rising prices, a key element of her strategy of presenting a more moderate face to voters.

Le Pen’s team has also hit back at a report that the European Union’s anti-corruption watchdog OLAF had accused her and senior colleagues of embezzling more than €600,000 (£497,000) of EU funds during their time as MEPs.

Polls suggest that up to a fourth of the French electorate might not vote at all on Sunday, and much will also depend on the decisions of the millions of left-wing supporters of Jean-Luc Melenchon, who finished in a close third place in the first round on April 10.

Only a third of those who voted for him will back Mr Macron in order to block a Right-wing presidency under Le Pen. The rest preferred to return a blank ballot, or said they would simply stay at home.

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