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

  • First estimates of results at 6:00 p.m. GMT
  • Macron up slightly in the polls
  • Choice between pro-European centrist and far-right eurosceptic

PARIS, April 24 (Reuters) – The French began voting on Sunday in an election that will decide whether centrist pro-European Union President Emmanuel Macron keeps his post or is ousted by far-right eurosceptic Marine Le Pen in a which would amount to a political earthquake.

Opinion polls in recent days have given Macron a solid and slightly growing lead as analysts said Le Pen – despite his efforts to soften his image and tone down some of his National Rally party’s policies – remains distasteful for many.

But a surprise victory for Le Pen could not be ruled out, given the high number of voters who were undecided or unsure whether they would vote at all in the presidential runoff.

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With polls showing none of the candidates can count on enough committed supporters, it will all depend on a cohort of voters weighing their concern over the implications of a far-right presidency against anger over Macron’s record since his election in 2017.

If Le Pen wins, it will likely bring the same sense of political upheaval as Britain’s vote to leave the European Union or the US election of Donald Trump in 2016.

Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) and will close at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT). The first projections of the pollsters are expected as soon as the polls close.

In Douai, a medium-sized town in northern France where Le Pen beat Macron in the first round of voting two weeks ago, retired Andrée Loeuillet, 69, said she had voted for Macron, as she had made on April 10.

“He has his faults but he also has qualities. He is in the best position to continue, we are going through difficult times,” she said.

Macron, 44 and winner of the same match five years ago, warned of “civil war” if Le Pen – whose policy includes banning the wearing of the Muslim headscarf in public – is elected and called on the Democrats of all persuasions to support him. .

Le Pen, 53, has focused his campaign on the rising cost of living in the world’s seventh-largest economy, which many French say has worsened with soaring global energy prices. She also focused on Macron’s abrasive leadership style, which she said shows an elitist disregard for ordinary people.

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

Among the early voters in the village of Souille, near the northwestern town of Le Mans, civil servant Pascal Pauloin, 56, said he voted for Le Pen out of disenchantment with Macron.

“Frankly, I am very disappointed. Our France has not been doing well for years. Macron has done nothing for the middle classes, and the gap with the rich is widening more and more,” he said. .

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

Jean-Daniel Levy, of pollsters Harris Interactive, said opinion polls showed Le Pen was unlikely to win because it would require huge shifts in voters’ intentions.

If Macron wins, he will face a tough second term, with no grace period he enjoyed after his first victory, and likely protests against his plan to continue business-friendly reforms, including pushing through the retirement age from 62 to 65.

If she overthrows him, Le Pen would seek sweeping changes to France’s domestic and international policy, and street protests could begin immediately. Shockwaves would be felt across Europe and beyond.

Whoever wins, a major first challenge will be to win the June legislative elections to secure a viable majority to implement their agendas.

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Additional reporting by Michel Rose, Leigh Thomas, Juliette Jabkhiro and Gus Tropmiz; Written by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Mark John, Frances Kerry and Raissa Kasolowsky

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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