French voters are casting their ballots in the opening round of a Presidential race that could become a cliffhanger.
French President Emmanuel Macron has a fight on his hands from the far-right challenger, Marine Le Pen, who has been galvanized by a slick election campaign.
Forty-nine million people are eligible to decide which two of the contesting 12 candidates should take part in the run-off vote. But after hours of voting, only a quarter of voters have turned out, representing the lowest in the past 20 years. The campaign has, first of all, been overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion. At the preliminary stages of the Russia-Ukraine crisis, French President, Emmanuel Macron, spent some time of his race, focusing on Europe’s reaction to the war in Ukraine.
However, one issue that has predominated the election, is the spiralling cost of living in energy bills and shopping baskets. When Mr. Macron came to power with a new party in 2017, he swept away the old allegiances, leaving the two big parties to nurse their wounds. Socialist Candidate, Anne Hidalgo, has struggled to be heard, while on the right, Valérie Pécresse, has failed to excite the Republicans. Now, the main challenge to Mr. Macron, 44, is coming from Ms. Le Pen on the far right and Jean-Luc Mélenchon on the far left. As it is, some are predicting the President could lose.
Confusion on Who to Vote for
Voting began at 08:00 (06:00 GMT) in mainland France and is expected to end in the big cities of Paris, Lyon and Marseille at 20:00 local time. What adds to the uncertainty is that days before the vote, one Ipsos Opinion Poll suggested 37% of people were still undecided.
“The campaign’s been going on for two months and there hasn’t been much debate. I still don’t know who to vote for.”A café owner, Ourdia, in North-West Paris
The old tribal tradition of voting either for the left or right has gone. One market trader in Paris said he was yet to decide whether to vote for Marine Le Pen, 53, or 70-year-old Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
What Voters are Saying
After voting at a Paris polling station, one voter, Chloé disclosed that the candidates spent too much time focusing on international affairs, but now was not the time: “They’re not talking about the biggest subjects for us and our everyday lives.” Another person, Malika, said she was voting for Eric Zemmour on the far-right because “I want to vote for France, not party politics”.
Andy however was worried Marine Le Pen would win but he was not a fan of Emmanuel Macron either: “So many crises have happened, and for me, as a student, there’s been a lot of reform that’s not good for us.”
For many voters, there is no longer a stigma about voting for the far right. Philippe Bridou, a former Socialist voter in South-Western City of Perpignan, told the media that he switched to the far-right because “security is important, immigration is important too because it’s a subject now, and the left-wing doesn’t discuss it”. After Ms. Le Pen was beaten by Mr. Macron in 2017, she rebranded her National Front as National Rally, with her policies which have hardly changed. But she has come across as more moderate than far-right rival candidate, Eric Zemmour.