French presidential candidates Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen face off in a final televised debate on Wednesday which is expected to be bitter, personal and potentially decisive ahead of the run-off vote this weekend.
The stakes are high ahead of the contest between the pro-European Macron, a 39-year-old former investment banker, and far-right leader Le Pen, the 48-year-old scion of the National Front party.
Their starkly different views on Europe, immigration, the economy and French identity will be explored for the first time face-to-face, after a week marked by bruising clashes between them.
Polls show Macron holding a hefty but narrowing lead in the polls of 59% versus 41%, but previous debates during the roller-coaster French campaign have quickly shifted public opinion.
With Le Pen trailing in the polls, the face-off will be her biggest chance in front of a television audience to impress millions of views or induce an error by her opponent that could tilt Sunday's election in her favour.
Macron, who was economy minister under Hollande, is expected to be wary of making mistakes but has signalled his intention to take on Le Pen and challenge what he calls her "dangerous" ideas for tackling the country's deep economic and social problems.
"I want to go head-to-head, to get to the bottom of the issues, to show that these are false solutions," the independent centrist told BFM television Tuesday.
Recent uncertainty about Le Pen's stance on withdrawing France from the euro common currency could also give him an opportunity to target what is seen as a risky and unpopular policy by many voters.
Le Pen said Sunday that a new franc would be introduced for daily use while the euro would be retained for "large companies who trade internationally".
In the face of the attacks on Macron's background as a highly educated civil servant and banker, he is expected to emphasise his personal story as a self-made man born to two doctors in provincial Amiens.
Sparks flew when they faced each other in the presidential debates before the first round of voting, when Le Pen memorably accused Macron of waffling for seven minutes and saying nothing.
Macron said she was transforming France's millions of Muslims into "enemies of the republic".
In the end, both candidates, Macron because of his youth and the fact he has never held elected office, and Le Pen as an underdog formerly seen as a fringe extremist, "will need to come across as presidential", said Delporte, who specialises in political communication.
For both, the debate will be a chance to reach out to disgruntled voters, a recent survey found that seven in 10 voters are unhappy with the choice before them.
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