The French vote on Sunday in an election that will decide whether centrist president Emmanuel Macron, pro-European Union, stays in office or if he will be replaced by the Eurosceptic far-right Marine Le Pen, in what would amount to a political earthquake.
Opinion polls in recent days have pointed to a solid and slightly rising lead for Macron, with analysts saying that Le Pen — despite his efforts to soften his image and water down some of his party’s policies — remains unpalatable to many.
But a surprise victory for Le Pen cannot be ruled out. With polls showing that neither candidate can count on supporters strong enough to win, much will depend on those who are still weighing fears about the implications of a far-right presidency against anger over Macron’s record since his election in 2017. .
A victory for Marine Le Pen would mark a political turnaround for Western democracies on a par with Brexit or the 2016 US election of Donald Trump, ending decades of rule by more conventional French leaders and posing the latest threat to the future of European Union.
Voting opened at 8:00 am local time (3:00 am Brasília time) and will close at 8:00 pm (3:00 pm Brasília time). Initial projections of exit polls are expected to be released once the polls close.
By midday local time, about 26.4% of voters had already voted — 2 points lower than in 2017, when turnout was already at its lowest point in nearly half a century.
Macron, 44, who beat Le Pen in the last presidential election five years ago, warned of a “civil war” if the opponent – whose proposals include a ban on Muslim veils in public – is elected, and called for support from Democrats from various branches.
Marine Le Pen, 53, has focused her campaign on rising cost of living in the world’s seventh-largest economy, which many French say has worsened as global energy prices soar. Le Pem is also critical of Macron’s abrasive leadership style, which she says shows an elitist contempt for ordinary people.
For the winner, the first big challenge will be to win parliamentary elections in June to guarantee a viable majority for the implementation of their programs.