Frances presidential candidates make last-minute appeals before vote

Macron, Le Pen lead, Fillon and Melenchon close behind

Stephane Mahe—Reuters
Emmanuel Macron

PARIS — Candidates in France’s presidential election made last-ditch appeals to sway undecided voters this week as the third and fourth placed contenders kept up the pressure on the two hopefuls leading opinion polls.Voters will cast ballots on Sunday in what has turned into the most unpredictable French election in memory, with four of the 11 candidates within reach of the two places for the runoff on May 7.Pollsters see centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right Marine Le Pen taking the top two places on Sunday and so going head-to-head in the runoff. That would break the normal rotation of power in France between the center-left and center-right.Polls on the race to succeed the deeply unpopular socialist President Francois Hollande are so close that gaps between candidates fall within the margin of error.A Harris Interactive poll showed Macron and Le Pen leading, with the gap wider than before. The centrist inched ahead to 24.5 percent while Le Pen was weaker at 21 percent.Conservative former prime minister Francois Fillon scored 20 percent, meaning he was now gaining on Le Pen.Jean-Luc Melenchon, a far left politician propelled from wild card to genuine contender thanks to feisty television performances and smart social media campaign, was stable on 19 percent. An Ifop-Fiducial poll showed roughly the same breakdown.The outcome will be watched closely by France’s allies given its role as a nuclear-armed permanent veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council and its military and diplomatic clout in the Middle East and West Africa.Macron, a former banker who quit as economy minister last August to set up his independent “En Marche!” (“Onwards!”) movement, would beat Le Pen or any other candidate in the runoff, the Harris poll showed, echoing other polls.On Thursday evening, Macron won the support of former prime minister Dominique de Villepin, a conservative Gaullist who won global celebrity by dramatically opposing U.S. plans for war in Iraq.Fillon, 63, was seen to be on an easy ride to the Elysee Palace at the beginning of the year but his campaign hit the rocks following nepotism allegations that he has denied. His ratings have gradually recovered and on Thursday he redoubled attempts to dissuade his core voters from straying to Macron’s camp.”In the fight against militant Islam, like on everything else, Emmanuel Macron’s stance is blurry,” Fillon told Le Figaro newspaper, adding he would take a much harder line with extremists.Melenchon, in an interview with BFM TV, pressed his criticism of European Union institutions — a position that has increasingly worried investors as his support has grown.