Turnout lower than in previous years; result expected at 2am Malaysian time
FRENCH voters were choosing yesterday between a young, pro-European Union centrist and a eurosceptic, anti-immigration far-rightist for their next president, with early figures indicating a relatively low turnout.
Opinion polls predicted that former economy minister Emmanuel Macron, 39, would win the five-year presidency, seeing off the National Front’s Marine Le Pen after an election campaign full of scandal and upsets.
Voting was not due to end until 8pm, but Belgian media published what they said were the results of surveys taken yesterday by three unnamed opinion pollsters among people who had voted or intended to vote.
The Belgian public broadcaster RTBF said the surveys put Macron’s share of the vote at between 62 and 64 per cent.
The information could not be verified. Pollsters are not allowed to publish election day surveys in France before voting closes.
The last opinion polls on Friday gave Macron between 61.5 and 63 per cent of the vote. Forecasts of the result proved accurate for the tight first round race between 11 candidates last month.
A victory for Macron, who wants to deregulate the economy and deepen EU integration, would contrast with recent nativist, antiglobalisation voting outcomes like those that will see Britain quit the EU and made Donald Trump United States president.
Should an upset occur and Le Pen win, the future of the EU could be on the line, given her desire to close borders, dump the euro currency, and tear up trade treaties.
But even in defeat, the 48-yearold’s vote is likely to be about twice what her party scored the last time it reached the presidential second round in 2002, demonstrating the scale of voter disaffection with mainstream politics.
By midday, both candidates had voted, he in Le Touquet on the north coast, and she in the northern town of Henin-Beaumont.
Figures from the Interior Ministry said 28.23 per cent of voters had turned out by midday, the lowest at that point since the 2002 presidential poll, when it was 26.19 percent.
At 5pm, the turnout was 65.30 per cent, lower than both the first round and the 2012 vote, ministry data showed.
The figure was 6.6 points lower than in the 2012 run-off for president, and about four points down from this year’s first round of voting on April 23.
A poll on Friday had predicted a final turnout of 75 per cent, down from more than 80 per cent in 2002, 2007 and 2012.
Pollsters see likely abstentions as highest among left wing voters who feel disenfranchised by yesterday’s choice.
It remained unclear what the final turnout would be, and what a high or low showing could mean for the outcome. One extra unknown is the level of blank and spoilt ballot papers.
After a campaign in which favourites dropped out of the race one after the other, Le Pen is nevertheless closer to elected power than the far right has been in France since World War 2.
If opinion polls prove accurate and France elects its youngestever president rather than its first female leader, Macron has said he expects no honeymoon period.
Close to 60 per cent 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 support the former banker turned politician.
The battle between mainstream and more radical policies in France will continue into parliamentary elections next month in which the new president will try to secure a majority in Parliament. One poll this week suggested that was within reach for Macron.
With security a prime concern, more than 50,000 police officers were on duty yesterday. Militant attacks here, in Nice and elsewhere in France have killed more than 230 people in recent years.
The courtyard of the Louvre Museum here, where Macron was due to speak after the result, was briefly evacuated after a suspicious bag was found. Agencies
Soldiers patrolling the courtyard of the Louvre Museum in Paris yesterday.