Polls are open in France for a presidential election that has been characterised by demagoguery and a lack of a political agenda.
Incumbent Emmanuel Macron, seeking a second term, seemed like a runaway for most of the campaign, banking on his “statesman” role in the Russia-Ukraine war. If he were to succeed, he will become the first president in 20 years, since Jacques Chirac, to do so.
But that view is no longer on solid ground as his rival, far-right leader Marine Le Pen – praised by many for leading a strong campaign and refashioning herself into a ‘moderate’ politician – has in the last few days gained on Macron.
Le Pen, in stark contrast to Macron, has embarked on a campaign trail that has largely focused on domestic issues, particularly on purchasing power, which voters said was their primary concern.
The two frontrunners will head into the second round of elections on April 24, a repeat of the 2017 elections that Macron won by a landslide.
For Francoise Boucek, a visiting research fellow and associate of the Centre for European Research, the two-week period following the first round will be highly significant.
“It’s interesting to see the repositioning that is required right after the first round, in a matter of hours,” she said. “The other parties will have to mobilise their leadership and decide what to do and what to advise their voters.”
“On the assumption that it’s Le Pen versus Macron, who is Mélenchon going to counsel his voters to support?” she asked. “He’s been going after Macron, criticising him all along.”
“In the past few weeks, especially over the past few days, things have turned around quite a lot,” she said. “It’s been a slow start but an exciting finish.”
Analysts fear that the 2002 record of French voters boycotting a first round – 28.4 percent – risks being beaten, with the 2017 absentee rate of 22.2 percent almost sure to be exceeded.
In the overseas territories, where voting is already underway, the participation rate has been low so far. Nearly 37.08 percent of people had voted in Guadeloupe, 34.6 percent in Guyana, 35.1 percent in Martinique, 44.4 percent in St-Pierre-et-Miquelon, and 12.34 percent in Polynesia, according to the official data by the prefecture, BFMTV news reported.
Source: Al Jazeera