Macron or Le Pen: France faces a difficult choice for the post of president

Official campaign posters of French presidential candidates Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally party, and French President Emmanuel Macron, a candidate for re-election, are displayed on an official billboard in Montchevre, France, April 2022. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

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  • Estimated first results at 1800 GMT
  • Macron with a slight lead in the opinion polls
  • The choice between the pro-European centrist and the eurosceptic far-right

PARIS (Reuters) – The French began voting on Sunday in an election that will decide whether centrist pro-European Union President Emmanuel Macron will retain office or be ousted by far-right hardliner Marine Le Pen in what could amount to a political earthquake.

Opinion polls in recent days have given Macron a solid and slightly increased lead, with analysts saying that Le Pen – despite her efforts to smooth her image and tone down some RNP policies – remains unpalatable to many.

But Le Pen’s surprise victory cannot be ruled out, given the large numbers of voters undecided or unsure whether they will ever vote in the presidential run-off.

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With polls showing neither candidate can count on committed supporters, much will depend on a group of voters weighing concern about the fallout from the far-right presidency against anger over Macron’s record since his 2017 election.

If Le Pen wins, she will likely carry the same sense of dizzying political turmoil as the British vote to leave the European Union or the election of Donald Trump in the United States in 2016.

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Polls open at 8 am (0600 GMT) and close at 8 pm (1800 GMT). Initial forecasts by polling organizers are expected once polling closes.

In Douai, a mid-sized town in northern France where Le Pen led Macron in the first round of voting two weeks ago, retiree Andre Lhuillier, 69, said she voted for Macron, as she did on April 10.

“He has his faults but he also has qualities. He is the best who can keep going, we are going through difficult times,” she said.

Macron, 44 and the winner of the same match five years ago, warned of a “civil war” if Le Pen – whose policies include banning Islamic headscarves in public – and called on Democrats of all stripes to support him. .

Le Pen, 53, has focused her campaign on the rising cost of living in the world’s seventh-largest economy, which many French say has worsened as global energy prices have risen. She also focused on Macron’s abrasive leadership style, which she says shows elite disdain for ordinary people.

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

Among the first voters in the village of Souil, near the northwestern town of Le Mans, civil servant Pascal Paulin, 56, said he voted for Le Pen because of his disappointment with Macron.

“Frankly, I’m very disappointed,” he said. “France hasn’t done well in years. Macron has done nothing for the middle classes, and the gap with the rich is widening more than ever.”

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Le Pen, who has also been criticized by Macron for her former admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, rejects accusations of racism. She said her plans to prioritize French citizens for social housing and jobs and eliminate a number of welfare benefits for foreigners would benefit all French people, regardless of their religion or origins.

Jean-Daniel Levy, pollster at Harris Interactive, said polls showed Le Pen was unlikely to win, because that would require huge shifts in voter intentions.

If Macron wins, he will face a difficult second term, with none of the grace period he enjoyed after his first victory, and is likely to protest his plan to pursue pro-business reforms, including raising the retirement age from 62 to 65.

If she ousts him, Le Pen would seek drastic changes to France’s domestic and international policies, and street protests could begin immediately. The shock waves can be felt throughout Europe and beyond.

Regardless of who tops the list, the first major challenge will be winning the parliamentary elections in June to secure a workable majority to implement their programmes.

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Additional reporting by Michelle Rose, Lee Thomas, Juliette Jabkeiro and Jos Tropemez. Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Mark John, Frances Kerry and Raisa Kasulowski

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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