PARIS (AP) — French voters turned out on Sunday for a runoff in the presidential election that has broad implications for the future of Europe, with President Emmanuel Macron seen as the frontrunner but fighting a tough challenge from her far-right rival Marine Le Pen.
Centrist Macron is asking voters to trust him for a second five-year term despite a presidency troubled by protests, the pandemic and Russia’s war on Ukraine. A victory for Macron in this vote would make him the first French president in 20 years to win a second term.
Sunday’s outcome in France, a nuclear-armed country with one of the largest economies in the world, could also have an impact on the war in Ukraine, as France has played a key role in diplomatic efforts and has strongly supported sanctions against Russia for its invasion of its neighbour.
All recent opinion polls point to a victory for pro-European Macron, 44, but the margin over his 53-year-old far-right rival varies widely. Polls are also predicting a possibly record number of people who will vote blank or not vote at all.
Support for Le Pen in the French electorate has grown during this campaign to its highest level ever, and much will depend on how many people turn out to vote on Sunday. Turnout was 26.1% at midday, slightly higher than the first-round vote on April 10.
Many who should choose Macron do so primarily to ward off Le Pen, whose platform is seen as extreme and undemocratic, such as his plan to ban the Muslim headscarf in public. Macron questioned his party’s ties to Russia.
“I’m calm,” Le Pen said as she voted in the northern town of Hénin-Beaumont and took selfies with fans. “I have confidence in the French.
Macron, meanwhile, greeted the crowds with handshakes and hugs in the coastal town of Le Touquet, in the English Channel.
Both candidates are trying to woo the 7.7 million supporters of leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who was among 10 other presidential candidates eliminated in the first round of voting on April 10.
For many who voted for the left-wing candidates in the first round, the second round presents an unpleasant choice between Le Pen, a far-right anti-immigrant nationalist, and Macron, a leader who some say has veered right on its first lap. term. The outcome could hinge on whether leftist voters support Macron or abstain from voting, leaving him to fend for himself against Le Pen.
Voting in the west of Paris in the suburb of Pecq, Stéphanie David voted for Macron “without much joy”. She had voted for the Communist Party candidate in the first round.
“It was the least worst choice,” said the transport worker, who added that Le Pen was anathema to her. “Even if she tries to soften her rhetoric, I can’t stand it.”
Pensioner Jean-Pierre Roux voted to exclude Le Pen’s far-right father, Jean-Marie, in the second round of presidential elections in France in 2002 and voted against his daughter in 2017. But Roux did not could bring himself to vote for Macron again this time, claiming he was too arrogant. Roux placed an empty envelope in the ballot box.
“I’m not against his ideas but I can’t stand the person,” he said.
Le Pen has sought to appeal to working-class voters struggling with soaring prices amid the fallout from Russia’s war in Ukraine – an approach that even Macron has acknowledged resonating with the public. She said lowering the cost of living would be her priority if elected France’s first female president, and she ran as the candidate for voters unable to make ends meet.
Le Pen says Macron’s presidency has left the country deeply divided, pointing to the yellow vest protest movement that rocked his government before the COVID-19 pandemic, with months of violent demonstrations against economic policies that some say , harm the poorest.
Macron has sought to appeal to voters with immigrant and religious backgrounds, not least because of Le Pen’s proposed policies targeting Muslims and putting French citizens first in line for jobs and benefits.
Macron has also touted his environmental and climate achievements in a bid to lure popular young voters over far-left candidates. Many young French voters are particularly committed to climate issues.
Although Macron has been associated with the slogan “Make The Planet Great Again”, during his first five-year term he capitulated to angry protesters in yellow vests by scrapping a tax hike on fuel prices. Macron has said his next prime minister will be in charge of environmental planning as France seeks to become carbon neutral by 2050.
Le Pen, once seen as a climate change skeptic, wants to scrap renewable energy subsidies. It has pledged to dismantle wind farms and invest in nuclear and hydropower.
John Leicester at Le Pecq, Michel Spingler at Henin-Beaumont and Alex Turnbull at Le Touquet contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the French elections at https://apnews.com/hub/french-election-2022
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