Saturday, February 4

Saturday, February 4

With her principal rival embroiled in scandal, Marine Le Pen launches her bid for the French presidency.

MARINE LE PEN: IN IT TO WIN IT

Photo: AFP/Getty

Photo: AFP/Getty

The French nationalist will officially launch her presidential campaign in the city of Lyon on Saturday. Ms Le Pen will run on a platform of aggressive Euroscepticism, anti-migration and economic statism in the hopes of capturing the hearts and minds of France’s blue collar workers.

In many ways, Le Pen’s campaign will resemble that of Donald Trump, of whom she’s a long time friend and supporter. In November, the National Front leader called his election a “sign of hope”; she’s wagering that the same anti-establishment rhetoric that carried him to victory will resonate across the Atlantic.

Successive polling figures suggest the nationalist candidate will make it to the second round runoff in May. Just who she’ll face is more uncertain.

Until recently the centre-right Francois Fillon was a shoe-in. But allegations that he employed his wife in a ghost job that cost the French taxpayer hundreds of thousands of euros have rocked his campaign. Self-avowed independent Emmanuel Macron appears to have capitalised on Fillon-gate and now appears to be the most likely to clinch the presidency.

Whoever does face off against Marine Le Pen will need to have broad appeal if they are to combat her populist nationalistic message. Liberals everywhere it seems will be banking on Mr Macron.

Go deeper: Europe at the crossroads: France’s presidential election

ELECTIONS IN PUNJAB: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE

Photo: Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone/AP

Photo: Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone/AP

The 27-million strong agricultural state of Punjab will hold local elections on Saturday, with other states to follow in February and March. Released on Mar. 11, the results will be a critical litmus test for PM Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Modi came under fire last November for announcing that 86% of the country’s currency would be withdrawn to combat black market trade. But the party’s 2017 budget, released on Wednesday, may give the federal government a much-needed boost among India’s rural populace, which was hit hardest by the demonetisation policy. Spending on rural development would be increased by almost a quarter to 1.87 trillion rupees.

Opinion polls favour the BJP to clinch Punjab. But the real challenge will be gaining a majority in India’s upper house, a feat no party has achieved in over 25 years. Far from being a mere historical abstraction, the BJP needs this majority to quickly pass much-needed economic reforms. The BJP currently holds a mere 73 of the 250 seats in the chamber, well short of the 126 seats needed to form a majority.