Marine Le Pen ‘serene’ as voting begins in French presidential election

France has started voting in a second round of presidential elections with repercussions for the future of Europe.

Centrist Macron is asking voters to trust him for a second five-year term despite a presidency troubled by protests, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. A victory for Macron in this vote would make him the first French president in 20 years to win a second term.

The outcome of the vote in France, a nuclear-armed country with one of the largest economies in the world, could also have an impact on the conflict in Ukraine, as France has played a key role in diplomatic efforts and the support for sanctions against Russia.

Support for Le Pen in the French electorate has grown during this campaign to its highest level ever, and much will depend on how many people turn out to vote on Sunday. Turnout was 26.1% at midday, slightly higher than at the same time in the first-round vote on April 10.

“I am serene,” she said as she voted in the northern town of Hénin-Beaumont. “I have confidence in the French. She took selfies with fans, as Macron greeted the crowds with handshakes and hugs in the coastal town of Le Touquet, in the English Channel.

The two candidates are trying to court the 7.7 million votes of left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, defeated in the first round on April 10.

For many who voted for left-wing candidates in the first round, the run-off presents an unpleasant choice between a nationalist in Le Pen and a president who some say veered right in his first term. The outcome could depend on the decision of leftist voters: between backing Macron or abstaining and letting him fend for himself against Le Pen.

French far-right candidate Marine Le Pen votes in Hénin-Beaumont (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)

“It was the least worst choice,” said the transport logistics employee. Le Pen was anathema to her: “Even if she tries to soften her rhetoric, I can’t stand it.”

All opinion polls in recent days point to a victory for pro-European Macron, 44, but the margin over his 53-year-old far-right rival varies widely. Polls are also predicting a possibly record number of people who will vote blank or not vote at all.

Pensioner Jean-Pierre Roux voted to oust Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie in the 2002 runoff and again against his daughter in 2017. But Roux couldn’t bring himself to vote for Macron again this time. He put an empty envelope in the ballot box. He said he considered Macron too arrogant to vote again, citing a common complaint from the president that Le Pen also echoed.

French presidential election
Centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron shakes hands with supporters as he heads to the polling station in Le Touquet (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Le Pen has sought to appeal to working-class voters struggling with soaring prices amid the fallout from Russia’s war in Ukraine – an approach that even Macron has acknowledged resonating with the general public. She said lowering the cost of living would be her priority if elected France’s first female president, and she ran as the candidate for voters unable to make ends meet.

She says Macron’s presidency has left the country deeply divided. She repeatedly referenced the so-called yellow vests protest movement that rocked her government before the Covid-19 pandemic, with months of violent protests against her economic policies which some said were hurting the poorest.

The French presidential campaign has been particularly difficult for voters with an immigrant background and religious minorities, particularly due to Le Pen’s proposed policies targeting Muslims.

Macron has also touted his environmental and climate achievements in a bid to lure popular young voters over far-left candidates. Citizens and especially millennials voted en masse for Mélenchon. Many young voters are particularly concerned about climate issues.

Although Macron has been associated with the slogan “Make The Planet Great Again”, during his first five-year term he capitulated to angry yellow vest protesters by scrapping a tax hike on fuel prices.

Macron has said his next prime minister will be in charge of environmental planning as France seeks to become carbon neutral by 2050.

Le Pen, once seen as a climate change skeptic, wants to scrap renewable energy subsidies. It has pledged to dismantle wind farms and invest in nuclear and hydropower.

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