French far-right media pundit Eric Zemmour announced on Tuesday that he will run for president in next year’s election, adding his controversial and fiercely anti-immigration voice to the field of challengers seeking to unseat President Emmanuel Macron.
Seen by critics as an unapologetic racist but admired by supporters as a champion of traditional French values, Zemmour surged in polls in recent months, though there have been signs this early momentum is starting to slow.
His declaration came hours before the right-wing Republicans (LR) hold their final TV debate before a congress to choose their candidate at the weekend, with the outline of the April 2022 field now finally taking shape.
“I have decided to take our destiny in my hands. I have decided to stand in the presidential election,” Zemmour said in a YouTube video heavy on anti-immigrant warnings and pledges to restore the country’s grandeur on the world stage.
“It is no longer the time to reform France, but to save it,” Zemmour said, claiming that many voters “no longer recognise your country”.
Denouncing the “decline and decadence” of France, he said that Macron has promised to be something new, but turned out just to be a “synthesis of his predecessors”.
The official announcement by Zemmour, dubbed as “France’s Trump” by some, suggested he believed he had the financing and backing to dislodge Macron and outshine veteran far-right leader Marine Le Pen in next April’s election.
He is due to hold his first official campaign meeting on Sunday morning in Paris – anti-fascists and unions have already pledged to hold a “silence Zemmour” protest at 1:00pm (12:00 GMT) in the French capital.
Acid-tongued, intense and with two convictions for hate speech, Zemmour, 63, is hoping his radical pitch on curbing immigration and Islam in France will appeal to conservatives in a country riven with racial and religious tensions.
He is one of France’s best-known commentators, making his name by warning about the “colonisation” of the country by Muslims, whose religion he views as “incompatible” with French values.
Opinion polls suggested support for Zemmour surged in September and October and briefly made him the best-placed rival to Macron, but his popularity appears to have faded during the past month.
The latest survey put Zemmour third in the first round of voting at 14-to-15 percent, down two-to-three points from the start of November, according to research from the Ifop group published in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Sunday.
He trailed Macron on 25 percent and Le Pen on 19-20 percent. With these scores, they would both advance to a second-round runoff that Macron would win if the vote were held now, the survey indicated.
A photograph of Zemmour giving a middle finger with the comment “Real deep!” to a protester during a trip to Marseille was seized on by opponents as a sign his campaign was imploding.
Celebrity magazine Closer also reported last week that the married father-of-three was expecting a baby with his 28-year-old chief adviser Sarah Knafo – which he denounced as an invasion of privacy, but did not deny.
Other influential far-right figures have distanced themselves from him, and his campaign team is said to be riven with infighting and dominated by young activists with little political experience.
“I don’t support this candidacy, which is tainted by desperation,” former campaign aide Pierre Meurin told L’Express magazine on Monday. “You need to offer people some dreams, and not only blood and tears.”
Race takes shape
Le Pen is sounding newly confident, claiming that the “dust is starting to settle” after an early media blitz by her rival, who is the son of Algerian Jewish parents who migrated to France.
For the Republicans, Tuesday’s prime-time debate from 20:00 GMT on France 2 television will be the last of four among the five contenders for the candidacy, before a two-round vote by party members this week and a winner announced Saturday.
Analysts have said the outcome is wide open with contenders including former EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier or hard-right legislator Eric Ciotti in the running alongside former minister Xavier Bertrand and Paris region chief Valerie Pecresse.
Macron, who current opinion polls have predicted is currently on course to win the election, has yet to officially declare his candidacy but is expected to announce early next year.