×

Tensions rise between frontrunner Macron and far-right’s Le Pen; voting intentions deeply split

Anne-Christine Poujoulat | AFP | Getty Images

The two leading French presidential candidates have entered into a battle of words after Marine Le Pen denied France's involvement in the round up of Jews at the Vel d'Hiv cycling track in 1942.

The leader of the Front National told LCI television on Sunday that France wasn't responsible for arresting thousands of Jewish people and holding them at the Vel d'Hiv cycling track during the Second World War – an event that former presidents have apologized for.

In response to Le Pen's comments, the centrist Emmanuel Macron said that her remarks were a "serious mistake" and some people had forgotten that the far-right leader is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen - who previously led the party and called the Holocaust a "detail" of History.

Both Le Pen and Macron are set to dispute the French presidency in the second round of the election, but French voters seem increasingly more divided and disappointed with politics as election day approaches. Opinion polls show that voters are more inclined to both political extremes, with the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon gaining momentum. Projections published during the weekend showed Melenchon with 18 percent to 19 percent of votes, putting him in third place.

"This is the most uncertain election in the history of the 5th Republic," Vincent Juvyns, global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management, told CNBC over the phone on Monday, adding that the far-left candidate is gathering more support due to the failure of the Socialist party in pleasing voters.

However, Melenchon needs to do more if he wants to be one of the candidates in the second and final round of voting in May.

"Melenchon's surge also happened in 2012," Deutsche Bank said in a note last Friday. Looking at his polling position in the month up to the election, "the similarity with the 2017 polls and momentum is striking."

"If Mélenchon wants to have a chance to make it to the second round, he cannot rely on taking votes from Socialist (Benoit) Hamon anymore. He will have to adopt a different strategy and either aim to capture Le Pen's voters or Macron's voters or convince abstentionists to support him," the bank added.

At the moment, surveys suggest that nearly 40 percent of the French electorate has yet to make up its mind. The indecision coupled with the expectation that this election will see higher abstention figures could aid extreme parties.

"In France, participation at the Presidential elections varied between 70 percent and over 85 percent in the past 40 years. The lowest participation at the first round occurred in 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen (father of Marine Le Pen) surprisingly qualified for the second round. Historically, low participation has increased the National Front results," Deutsche Bank said.

Famke Krumbmüller, partner at Open Citiz, told CNBC on Monday that amid such high volatility "a lot can happen in the next two weeks" until the first round takes place.

"The next two weeks of campaigning will obviously be extremely crucial," she said, as undecided voters might make up their minds as they head to the polls.

According to Krumbmüller, French voters are looking for a candidate that shows "strength". Their vote is very much focused on personalities, but there are a lot of concrete issues on the table that will also be influencing voters, including the high level of unemployment and France's involvement in European politics.

Follow CNBC International on Twitter and Facebook.