By Euronews
French President Emmanuel Macron (left) and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen (left)
French President Emmanuel Macron (left) and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen (left)   –   Copyright  AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner (left) and Daniel Cole (right)

France’s two presidential candidates will debate on Wednesday night in a highly anticipated test of their readiness for the upcoming runoff election.

It’s the first such debate since the candidates began the election campaign after President Emmanuel Macron refused to debate in the first round of the election.

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The 2.5-hour debate on Wednesday marks an important chance for the last two candidates, incumbent Macron and far-right Marine Le Pen, to convince voters who will head to the polls on Sunday.

It’s also a repeat of their 2017 televised confrontation which was seen as influential in the campaign.

The debate was viewed as a loss for Le Pen who at times appeared confused on economic issues and more combative than her opponent. Overall the debate was viewed as tense between the two candidates.

Le Pen recently admitted that the debate in 2017, which had an audience of 16.5 million people, was a failure.

“I failed, tripped and got back up. And I believe, with modesty, I went back to work in the field,” Le Pen said, adding that moving on after failures can demonstrate strength of character.

Le Pen went on to lose the 2017 election, winning 33.9% of the vote compared with Macron’s 66.1%.

While Macron is still leading in the polls this year, it is by a much smaller margin and is expected to be a closer race.

The latest poll from Ipsos Sopra/Steria suggests Macron is leading voting intentions with 56.5% compared to 43.5% for Le Pen. Other polls have shown a much tighter race in the runoff.

Both presidential candidates are likely to try to woo left-wing voters who picked Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round.

Mélenchon won 22% of the first-round vote with a programme focusing on the public sector, social aid, and the environment.

Most of those voters could choose to vote blank in the runoff, early polls suggest.