PARIS May 7 After a tumultuous election
campaign filled with scandal and surprises, French voters will
decide on Sunday whether a pro-European Union centrist or an
anti-EU, anti-immigration far-rightist will lead them for the
next five years.
Opinion polls indicate they will pick Emmanuel Macron, a
39-year-old ex-economy minister who wants to bridge the
left-right divide, resisting an anti-establishment tide that has
seen Britons vote to leave the EU and Americans choose Donald
Trump as U.S. president.
But should an upset occur and National Front candidate
Marine Le Pen win, the very future of the EU could be on the
Macron, who wants to deregulate the economy and deepen EU
integration, has a 23-26 percentage point lead over Le Pen in
the opinion polls.
Forecasts proved to be accurate for the presidential
election's first round last month and markets have climbed in
response to Macron's widening lead over his rival after a bitter
debate on Wednesday.
In a campaign that has seen favourites drop out of the race
one after the other, Le Pen, who wants to close borders, ditch
the euro currency and clamp down on migration, is nevertheless
closer to elected power than the far right has ever been in
Western Europe since World War Two.
Even if opinion polls prove accurate and France elects its
youngest president ever rather than its first female leader,
Macron himself has said himself he expects no honeymoon period.
Abstention could be high and close to 60 percent of those
who plan to vote for Macron say they will do so to stop Le Pen
from being elected to lead the euro zone's second-largest
economy rather than because they fully agree with the former
"The expected victory...wouldn't be a blank cheque for
Emmanuel Macron," Odoxa pollsters said in a note. "A huge
majority will not be backing him wholeheartedly."
MORE ELECTIONS TO COME
Sunday's election will in any case far from spell the end of
the battle between mainstream and more radical policies in
France, with parliamentary elections next month equally crucial.
Once the presidential ballot is over, attention will
immediately switch to whether the winner will be able to count
on a parliamentary majority. The first poll on the parliamentary
election, published this week, showed that was within reach for
Much will also depend on both the candidates' score on
Sunday. Le Pen's niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, on Thursday told
L'Opinion daily that a 40 percent score would already be "a huge
victory" for the National Front.
Whoever wins will spell a new chapter in French politics
after the major left-wing and right-wing parties -- the
Socialist Party and The Republicans -- that have ruled France
for decades both suffered humiliating defeats in the election's
The campaign was hit by yet another surprise on Friday night
just before the quiet period which forbids politicians from
commenting started, as Macron's team said a massive hack had
dumped emails, documents and campaign financing information
Some 67,000 polling stations will open at 8 a.m. and
pollsters will publish initial estimates at 8 pm (1800 GMT),
once all polling stations are closed.
More than 50,000 police officers will be on duty. Security
will be a prime concern in the wake of a series of militant
attacks in Paris, Nice and elsewhere in the past few years that
have killed more than 230 people in the past two-and-a-half
(Reporting by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Angus MacSwan)