‘Hard choice’: French voters vote in presidential runoff

French voters have a choice between centrist incumbent Emmanuel Macron and far-right politician Marine Le Pen.

French voters are casting their ballots in the presidential runoff to choose between centrist incumbent Emmanuel Macron and far-right politician Marine Le Pen.

Opinion polls suggest Macron, 44, has a solid lead, but analysts have warned that low turnout could sway the outcome in either direction. Around 48.7 million citizens have the right to vote.

Polling stations opened at 08:00 a.m. (06:00 GMT) on Sunday and close at 19:00 p.m. (17:00 GMT) in most places, except in large cities that have chosen to keep the Schools open until 8:00 p.m.

Macron’s popularity has taken a hit since 2017, but the war in Ukraine has stabilized his re-election chances, particularly in light of the renewed Russian offensive in the East.

Marine Le Pen’s dogged focus on inflation and the cost of living have led her to perform better than she did in 2017.

Unlike previous elections in which immigration, religion versus secularism, and identity were front and center, this election has been fought around two main issues, purchasing power and security.

Le Pen has focused a lot on the feeling that voters’ money buys less: Nearly 70 percent of voters say their purchasing power has decreased during Macron’s first term.

Security and the ongoing war in Ukraine are other issues that play a key role in voters’ decision-making. They are seen as the strong point of Macron, who spared no attack on Le Pen’s close ties to Russia during the April 20 presidential debate.

Macron also bitterly opposed his plan to make it illegal to wear the Muslim headscarf in public.

Polls have consistently predicted that Macron will win a second term. The race narrowed during the first round of the election but appears to have moved away since then. They now suggest a Macron victory of around 56-44 percent.

“It is a tough choice facing the French today. Both candidates offer a very different version of how they see France in the future,” said Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith, reporting from the capital Paris.

“Both candidates are also competing for the vote of the extreme left, Jean-Luc Melenchon, who was defeated in the first round by just 1 percent of Marine Le Pen.

“Melanchon did not endorse Macron, he simply said that no vote should go to the far right,” Smith said.

However, analysts warned that the incumbent president, who came to power in 2017 at the age of 39 as the country’s youngest modern leader, cannot take anything for granted with a crucial role in ensuring victory.

Above all, he must ensure that leftist voters who backed other candidates in the first round on April 10 hold their noses and back the pro-European centrist former investment banker to prevent the anti-immigrant Le Pen from gaining power.

To account for the time difference with mainland France, polls opened earlier in the overseas territories, home to nearly three million French people.

The first vote in the election was cast at noon Saturday Paris time by a 90-year-old man on the tiny island territory of Saint Pierre and Miquelon off Canada’s north coast.

Polls subsequently opened in France’s islands in the Caribbean and the South American territory of French Guiana, followed by territories in the Pacific and then the Indian Ocean before the mainland was joined.


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