The French began voting on Sunday to elect their next president and choose, as they did in 2017, between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. The first is the favorite for the second term. But the far right has never seemed so close to the gates of power.
Polling stations opened at 8am on the French mainland. They will close at 19:00, and in large cities – at 20:00.
With three school zones in the country during school holidays, abstinence could be the ultimate arbiter of this second round.
The noon turnout will be the first sign of the mobilization of the 48.7 million voters invited to the polls.
Some overseas territories and French living abroad voted on Saturday. In Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, participation was 57% against 54.96% in the first round.
In New Caledonia, where the number of abstentions in the first round reached a record high (66.65%), the second round is announced under the same pretext. As of 12:00, the participation rate reported by the Supreme Commission of the Republic was 18.17% against 17.59% on April 10 at the same time.
In Nouméa, municipal official Steve Lauret said he was “a little surprised” by the weak mobilization, recalling that the separatists called for abstention. But he “considers it the duty of everyone to be interested in the political life of the country, otherwise there is no point in complaining after that.”
The French face a historic choice: to renew the outgoing president, something no one has done except cohabitation since the introduction of universal direct suffrage in 1962 and the election of General de Gaulle three years later.
Or elect a woman who will be the first and thus push the far right to the Élysée Palace for an explosion that will have a resonance far beyond France, comparable to the British Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in the United States in 2016.
The re-election of 44-year-old Emmanuel Macron would mean continuity, even if the presidential candidate has vowed to fundamentally innovate, ensuring he wants to put the environment at the center of his second — and final — term.
He is due to address his supporters on Sunday evening, after the vote, on the Champ de Mars, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.
The rise of Marine Le Pen, 53, to the helm of a nuclear power with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and the driving force behind the European Union will be an earthquake, all the more so as it takes place in the difficult context of a war at the gates of Europe.
The latest polls, released on Friday evening, before the reserve period goes into effect, give Emmanuel Macron the clear favourite.
But he is very far from his result in 2017, when, after a meteoric rise, he overtook his rival with 66.1% of the vote against 33.9% and became the youngest president of the V Republic at the age of 39.
– Front against forehead –
The programs of the two candidates are opposite and offer a radically different vision of Europe, the economy, purchasing power, relations with Russia, pensions, immigration, ecology…
After a five-year period littered with crises, from yellow vests to Covid, two Frances are pitted against each other.
To counter his rival, Emmanuel Macron, who came out first in the first round (27.85%) with an advantage of more than four points, reactivated the “republican front”. Which, however, seems to have lost its momentum compared to 2017 and 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marin’s father, was largely behind Jacques Chirac in the second round.
The National Rally candidate, in her third run, has gambled on another front, “Everyone but Macron,” whose influence at the polls has yet to be measured.
Between the two rounds, both candidates appealed to the electorate of rebel leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who finished third on 10 April with 21.95%.
But many LFI supporters may be tempted to abandon the ballot box.
Thus, the big unknown on the ballot is abstention, which is likely to be high, even higher than in the first round (26.31%). Just like the blank and null ballots that hit a record in 2017, testifying to the refusal of millions of French people to choose between two finalists.
The record of abstentions in the second round dates back to 1969 – 31.1%.
Voters will again be invited to the polls on June 12 and 19 for legislative elections in which the new president will seek to win the majority needed to govern the country.
The next “third round” is being prepared on the street, where, against the backdrop of galloping inflation, all those dissatisfied with the presidential election will most likely converge on the still hot coals of the “yellow vest” crisis.
jk / cal