Macron faces a tough fight as France votes on Sunday


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PARIS — Voting began in France on Sunday in the first round of a presidential election, with far-right candidate Marine Le Pen posing an unexpected threat to President Emmanuel Macron’s re-election hopes.

Until just a few weeks ago, opinion polls pointed to an easy victory for the centrist, pro-European Union Macron, buoyed by his active diplomacy on Ukraine, a strong economic recovery and the weakness of a fragmented opposition.

But his late entry into the campaign, with only one major rally that even his supporters found underwhelming, and his focus on an unpopular plan to raise the retirement age, have hurt the president’s ratings, along with a sharp rise in inflation.

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In contrast, Le Pen, a far-right anti-immigration Eurosceptic, has confidently toured France, all smiles, as his supporters chanted “Let’s win! We will win!.” He has been buoyed by a months-long focus on cost-of-living issues and a huge drop in support for his far-right rival, Eric Zemmour.

To be sure, opinion polls still see Macron leading the first round and winning a second round against Le Pen on April 24, but several polls now say this is within the margin of error.

Voting began at 8 am (0600 GMT) and ends at 1800 GMT, when the first exit polls will be published. These surveys are usually very reliable in France.

“We are ready, and the French are with us,” Le Pen told supporters at a rally on Thursday, urging them to vote for her to give them “the just punishment that those who have governed us so badly deserve.”

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Macron, 44, in office since 2017, spent the final days of the campaign trying to make it clear that Le Pen’s program has not changed despite efforts to soften his image and that of his National Rally party.

“Its foundations have not changed: it is a racist program that aims to divide society and is very brutal,” he told Le Parisien newspaper.

Le Pen rejects accusations of racism and says her policies would benefit all French people, regardless of their origins.

RISKS OF RETURN FOR MACRON

Assuming Macron and Le Pen make it to the second round, the president faces a problem: many left-wing voters have told pollsters that, unlike in 2017, they would not vote for Macron in the second round simply to keep Le Pen out. Energy.

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Macron will have to persuade them to change their minds and vote for him in the second round.

Sunday’s vote will show who the unusually high number of late undecided voters will elect and whether Le Pen, 53, can beat opinion poll predictions and come out on top in the first round.

“Marine Le Pen has never been so close to winning a presidential election,” Jean-Daniel Levy of pollster Harris Interactive said of Le Pen’s third run at the Elysee Palace.

Supporters of far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, who is ranked third in opinion polls, are expecting another kind of surprise and have called on left-wing voters of all persuasions to change their candidate and send him to the polls. Second round.

Macron and Le Pen agree that the outcome is open.

“Anything is possible,” Le Pen told supporters on Thursday, while earlier in the week Macron warned supporters not to rule out a Le Pen victory.

“Look at what happened with Brexit and so many other elections: what seemed unlikely actually happened,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau and Michel Rose; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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Reference-nationalpost.com

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