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Macron or Le Pen: France is facing a serious presidential election

  • The first results are estimated at 1800 GMT
  • Macron with a slightly growing lead in opinion polls
  • The choice between pro-European centrists, far-right Eurosceptics

Paris, April 24 (Reuters) – The French voted on Sunday to decide whether pro-European centrist President Emmanuel Macron will remain in office or be ousted by far-right Eurosceptic Marine Le Pen in what would be equivalent to a political earthquake.

Opinion polls in recent days have given Macron a solid and slightly growing lead, as analysts say Le Pen – despite her efforts to soften her image and ease some of her National Assembly’s policies – has been unacceptable to many.

But Le Pen’s surprising victory could not be ruled out. With polls showing that none of the candidates can count on a major number of top supporters to win, much will depend on those still considering concerns about the far-right president’s consequences against the anger over Macron’s record since his 2017 election.

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Le Pen’s victory would mean a political upheaval for Western democracies comparable to Brexit or Donald Trump’s US election in 2016, ending a decade of mainstream French leaders and the latest threat to the European Union’s future.

Polling stations opened at 8:00 (06:00 GMT) and close at 20:00 (18:00 GMT). The first polling station projections are expected as soon as the polling stations close.

About 26.4% of voters cast their votes by noon – two points less than in 2017, when final turnout was at its lowest point in almost half a century.

Hugo Winter, a 26-year-old salesman in Paris, said he would be among those who didn’t bother to vote.

“I don’t see the point in choosing between two things that don’t fit my expectations,” Winter said when buying food in the morning. “We live in a parallel world. Politicians do not represent the people.”

In Douai, a medium-sized city in northern France where Le Pen overtook Macron in the first round of elections two weeks ago, pensioner Andrée Loeuillet, 69, said she voted Macron as well as April 10.

“She has her faults, but also her qualities. She has the best chances to continue, we live hard times,” she said.

Marine Le Pen, a candidate of the French far-right National Assembly (Rassemblement National) for the French presidential election in 2022, welcomes her supporters as she comes to the polls in the second round of the French presidential election in 2022 in a polling station in Henin-Beaumont, France. , April 24, 2022. REUTERS / Darrin Zammit Lupi

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Macron, 44, who won against Le Pen in the last presidential election five years ago, warned of a “civil war” if Le Pen was elected – whose policy includes banning Muslim headscarves in public – and called on Democrats of all stripes on his back.

Le Pen (53) focused her campaign on rising living costs in the world’s seventh largest economy, which many French people said have worsened with soaring global energy prices. She also focused on Macron’s harsh leadership style, which she said showed elitist contempt for ordinary people.

“The question on Sunday is simple: Macron or France,” she said at a rally in Arras in the north of the country on Thursday.

Among the first voters in the village of Souille near the town of Le Mans in the northwest, civil servant Pascal Pauloin (56) said he voted Le Pen out of Macron’s disappointment.

“Honestly, I’m very disappointed. Our France has not been working well for years. Macron has done nothing for the middle class and the gap between the rich is widening,” he said.

Le Pen, who was also criticized by Macron for her previous admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, rejects allegations of racism. She said her plans to prioritize French citizens in social housing and jobs and to abolish a number of social benefits for foreigners would benefit all French people, regardless of their religion or background.

Harris Interactive polls Jean-Daniel Levy said polls have shown that Le Pen is unlikely to win because it would require a big shift in voters’ intentions.

If Macron wins, he will face a difficult second term without the grace period he enjoyed after his first victory, and likely protests against his plan to pursue pro-business reforms, including raising the retirement age from 62 to 65.

If deposed, Le Pen will seek radical changes in French domestic and international politics, and street protests could begin immediately. Shock waves would be felt throughout Europe and beyond.

Whatever comes first, the first big challenge will be to win the parliamentary elections in June and secure a working majority to implement its programs.

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Other reports by Michel Rose, Leigh Thomas and Guse Trompiz; Screenplay by Ingrid Melander; Editor Mark John, Frances Kerry and Raissa Kasolowsky

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