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    07-May-2017

French voters begin voting in tense poll for new president

 

AP

 

Voters across France are casting ballots in a presidential election runoff that could decide Europe’s future, choosing between independent Emmanuel Macron and far-right populist Marine Le Pen.
 
With Macron the pollsters’ favorite, voting stations opened across mainland France at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) under the watch of 50,000 security forces guarding against extremist attacks. Polling agency projections and initial official results will be available when the final stations close at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT). 
 
 
At 11 am local time, Centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, the front-runner in France's presidential election, cast his vote in the coastal town of Le Tourquet in northern France alongside his wife, Brigitte Macron.
 
The former Socialist economy minister and one-time banker was all smiles and petted a black dog as he stepped out of his vacation home in the seaside resort.
 
For security reasons, Macron was driven to his nearby polling station at Le Touquet City Hall and shook hands with a large crowd of supporters before he and his wife entered the building.
 
Macron had a large polling lead over far-right leader Marine Le Pen going into Sunday's presidential runoff election.
 
Earlier in the day, outgoing French president Francois Hollande has cast his vote in the runoff election to replace him. He voted in his political fiefdom of Tulle in southwestern France.
 
Hollande, the most unpopular French leader in the country's modern history, decided not to stand for re-election last year.
 
The Socialist president has called on voters to reject far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and to back centrist Emmanuel Macron, his former protégé.
 
The Socialist candidate, Benoit Hamon, was eliminated in the election's first round after receiving some 6 percent of the vote. 
 
Tense campaign 
The unusually tense and unpredictable French presidential campaign ended with a hacking attack and document leak targeting Macron on Friday night. France’s government cybersecurity agency is investigating the hack.
 
 
Marine Le Pen casts her ballot at a polling station in Henin-Beaumont, north-western France. (AFP)
 
Either candidate would lead France into uncharted territory, since neither comes from the mainstream parties that dominate parliament and have run the country for decades.
 
After a tumultuous election campaign filled with scandal and surprises, voters will decide on Sunday whether a pro-European Union centrist or an anti-EU, anti-immigration far-rightist will lead them for the next five years. 
 
Macron is favorite 
Opinion polls indicate they will pick Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old ex-economy minister who wants to bridge the left-right divide, resisting an anti-establishment tide that has seen Britons vote to leave the EU and Americans choose Donald Trump as US president.
 
But should an upset occur and National Front candidate Marine Le Pen win, the very future of the EU could be on the line.
 
Macron, who wants to deregulate the economy and deepen EU integration, has a 23-26 percentage point lead over Le Pen in the opinion polls.
 
Forecasts proved to be accurate for the presidential election’s first round last month and markets have climbed in response to Macron’s widening lead over his rival after a bitter debate on Wednesday.
 
In a campaign that has seen favorites drop out of the race one after the other, Le Pen, who wants to close borders, ditch the euro currency and clamp down on migration, is nevertheless closer to elected power than the far right has ever been in Western Europe since World War Two.
 
Even if opinion polls prove accurate and France elects its youngest president ever rather than its first female leader, Macron himself has said himself he expects no honeymoon period.
 
Abstention could be high and close to 60 percent of those who plan to vote for Macron say they will do so to stop Le Pen from being elected to lead the euro zone’s second-largest economy rather than because they fully agree with the former banker-turned-politician.
 
“The expected victory...wouldn’t be a blank cheque for Emmanuel Macron,” Odoxa pollsters said in a note. “A huge majority will not be backing him wholeheartedly.” 
 
More elections 
Sunday’s election will in any case far from spell the end of the battle between mainstream and more radical policies in France, with parliamentary elections next month equally crucial.
 
Once the presidential ballot is over, attention will immediately switch to whether the winner will be able to count on a parliamentary majority. The first poll on the parliamentary election, published this week, showed that was within reach for Macron.
 
SEE ALSO PHOTO GALLERY: Countdown to the French election: Macron vs Le Pen
 
Much will also depend on both the candidates’ score on Sunday. Le Pen’s niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, on Thursday told L’Opinion daily that a 40 percent score would already be “a huge victory” for the National Front.
 
 
Whoever wins will spell a new chapter in French politics after the major left-wing and right-wing parties -- the Socialist Party and The Republicans -- that have ruled France for decades both suffered humiliating defeats in the election’s first round.
 
The campaign was hit by yet another surprise on Friday night just before the quiet period which forbids politicians from commenting started, as Macron’s team said a massive hack had dumped emails, documents and campaign financing information online.
 
Security will be a prime concern during voting day in the wake of a series of militant attacks in Paris, Nice and elsewhere in the past few years that have killed more than 230 people in the past two-and-a-half years.
 
 

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