PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron begins a nationwide tour on Wednesday ahead of next year’s presidential election, in a risky repeat of previous meet-and-greet initiatives that saw him heckled by angry voters.
The 43-year-old centrist, widely expected to seek a second term in polls next April and May, will begin what he calls the task of “measuring the country’s pulse” in picturesque villages in southwest France.
Around a dozen stops are planned over the next two months, in a sign that the former investment banker has an eye on regional elections on June 20 and 27, as well as his own personal political test next year.
Recent polls show him as the frontrunner in the presidential race, narrowly ahead of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, while his personal ratings have improved as France emerges from its third national coronavirus lockdown.
His Republic on the Move party, which has struggled to build a presence outside of cities, is expected to perform poorly in the regional vote, however.
Macron has undertaken several other tours since his 2017 electoral triumph over the traditional parties of government on the left and right.
A 2018 trip to mark the centenary of the end of World War I is best remembered for the scenes of furious citizens booing and heckling France’s youngest post-war leader.
It took place just as “yellow vest” protests were gathering momentum to denounce the government’s policies and the head of state personally for his leadership style, which was criticised as aloof and arrogant.
Macron conducted another tour billed as a listening exercise in 2019 in the aftermath of those protests, which shook the country and saw him promise to change his way of governing.
Macron has spoken frequently about his fondness for spontaneous meetings with citizens, but extremely tight security due to threats from “yellow vests” and Islamic extremists have limited his opportunities in recent years.
An impromptu walkabout with his wife Brigitte through the Tuileries gardens in central Paris on Bastille Day last July ended with the head of state being verbally abused by a group of protesters.
The global Covid-19 pandemic has also restricted his travel and ability to focus on any political initiatives beyond short-term crisis management for the last 14 months.
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