It's election time in France and the first round has become unpredictable, with the polls showing different candidates in the lead, depending on the poll. Who will move on to the second round? And has this race already changed France's politics for ever?

In this week's UpFront, we speak to Jean Messiha, the project coordinator for France's conservative National Front, on whether or not his party has done enough to distance itself from its former controversial leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

And in the Arena, Socialist Party adviser Laura Slimani debates with Benjamin Haddad on whether his candidate, centrist Emmanuel Macron, will bring change or just more continuity to French politics.

How much has France's National Front changed?

"I don't think France is responsible for the Vel d'Hiv," conservative French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen told a broadcaster recently, claiming the rounding-up of Jews during World War II was "not France".

For many, the inflammatory remarks contradicted her attempts to distance her National Front party from her father and the party's controversial founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

According to Messiha, the National Front has moved on from its contentious past.

"Our project is englobing; it's inclusive, not exclusive," says Messiha. "You are talking about history. Don't take the Front National of the 70s as a reference."

When asked about reports of National Front employee Frederic Chatillon commemorating Adolf Hitler's birthday, Messiha called it "propaganda".

"This is total lies," says Messiha. "This is propaganda from the French media who do not want to listen to us on our project.

"Today the Front National is a structure that gathered 30 percent, almost, of the vote," says Messiha.

In this special interview, Messiha defends his party's controversial positions on societal and political issues.

Arena - Macron: Mr Continuity, or candidate of change?

On April 23, French voters head to the polls to elect a new leader.

Although polls are quite close, Emmanuel Macron is joint favourite with the National Front's Marine Le Pen to make it through the first round of the presidential election.

But is his En Marche! movement a breath of fresh air in French politics? Or is he the establishment candidate set to continue many of the unpopular neoliberal policies of the past decade?

"He's just a conservative with a new book cover; it's the same book, it's the same solutions," says Laura Slimani, adviser to Socialist presidential candidate Benoit Hamon.

"It's the solutions that the right and the left sometimes have tried for the past 30 years: liberalising the labour market, reducing public spending, harming our public services, not giving any rights."

One of Macron's campaign advisers, Benjamin Haddad, disagrees, claiming he's the only favourable candidate.

"He's the only one who's running on a positive and optimistic platform when it comes to Europe," says Haddad.

"If Macron wasn't a candidate today, we'd have a huge risk of having Marine Le Pen being elected. I think he's the best barrier against her."

In this week's Arena, Laura Slimani and Benjamin Haddad debate whether Macron will bring change to France, or if it will be more of the same.

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Source: Al Jazeera News