PARIS — Far-right commentator Eric Zemmour said on Tuesday he will stand in France’s 2022 presidential election, confirming his political ambitions after dominating the headlines for weeks with provocative comments on immigration.
Zemmour, a former journalist who has been convicted for inciting hatred, becomes the top contender to challenge Marine Le Pen, leader of the more established far-right National Rally, for a place in a second round against President Emmanuel Macron.
“For a long time I was happy with the role of journalist … but I no longer trust that a politician will have the courage to save the country from the tragic fate that awaits it,” Zemmour said in a video posted on social media.
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“That’s why I have decided to stand in the presidential election.”
His hardline criticism of Islam and immigration has made him a polarizing figure, drawing support both from Le Pen’s voter base and from the mainstream conservative right, while also alienating others in France.
After a meteoric rise in opinion polls over the past weeks, with several surveys forecasting he would make it to the election’s run-off round, his popularity has been slipping.
At this stage, most opinion polls forecast that Macron and Le Pen will face each other in the second round next April, which Macron would be likely to win in a repeat of the election of 2017.
But Zemmour led Le Pen for a while in recent weeks, and the race for the number two spot is still neck-and-neck in some surveys. There is plenty of time for the race to change again by April.
“So far, it was a warm-up. The real race begins,” said an email by a spokesperson for the “Friends of Eric Zemmour,” sent to his supporters ahead of the video’s publication.
Zemmour’s campaign has been stalling after various mishaps.
One was at the weekend, when he was photographed giving the middle finger to a protester following a tumultuous campaign stop in Marseille. He also sued gossip magazine Closer after it claimed he was expecting a baby with his chief political aide.
Opinion polls also show he has shocked some voters with provocative comments — from saying children shouldn’t be given foreign-sounding names to claiming that the French government which collaborated with the Nazis during World War II had protected Jews. And he has lost the backing of some high-profile supporters, French media say.