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France goes to the polls in the presidential elections

French voters began voting on Sunday in the first round of the presidential election, which sees far-right leader Marine Le Pen fiercely challenging incumbent Emmanuel Macron.

A victory for Le Pen, who is skeptical of the EU and NATO and has boasted in the past of her ties to Vladimir Putin, would shake Europe and the world while the Russian President’s forces wage a war on European soil in Ukraine.

If she becomes president, Le Pen has also promised to introduce more protectionist economic policies to favor French industry, crack down on Islamists and immigration, and ban women from wearing the veil in public on the grounds that it is one “Islamist uniform”.

“Never has the prospect of real change been so close,” Le Pen told jubilant supporters at her last rally before Election Day, held on Thursday in the far-right stronghold of Perpignan, where her former partner Louis Aliot is mayor. Campaigning was not allowed the day before the polling stations opened.

Le Pen hopes to build on the nationalist triumphs of Britain’s 2016 referendum on leaving the EU and Donald Trump’s US election victory later this year. In the 2017 election, she clearly lost to the liberal internationalist Macron.

Macron’s projected lead to win this year has come under increasing pressure in recent weeks jitters through the financial markets at the prospect of a Eurosceptic nationalist taking over the reins of the EU’s second largest economy.

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“Despite abandoning all explicit ‘Frexit’ plans, Le Pen would still completely transform France’s position within Europe,” said Jessica Hinds, senior Europe economist at Capital Economics, in a statement on Friday.

“At best, it would undermine and frustrate European policy-making, and at worst, seek to dismantle EU structures from within.”

The last opinion polls The poll released on Friday gave Macron 26.5 percent of first-round voting intentions, compared to 23 percent for Le Pen and 16.5 percent for far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Only two candidates will qualify for the second round on April 24th. If it’s Macron and Le Pen, as expected, polls give the incumbent president a 53-47 percent lead over his rival — much narrower than his 66.34 percent win in 2017.

A total of 12 candidates for the presidential election are on the ballot, including five from the far left and three from the far right.

Two candidates who gave the campaign an early boost — Eric Zemmour, the far-right anti-immigration TV polemicist, and Valérie Pécresse, primary winner for the conservative Les Républicains party — have since fallen in opinion polls to below 10 per percent of voting intentions in the country first ballot.

According to polls, Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist Party candidate and mayor of Paris, received only 2 percent of the vote in the first ballot.

This means that neither of the two political movements that provided France’s presidents from 1958 until the arrival of Macron – the Gaullist centre-right party on the one hand and the Socialists on the other – stand much of a chance of their candidate being elected on March 24 , although they could do better in the National Assembly elections in June.

https://www.ft.com/content/b73c0841-4c12-4e40-bfff-5f77b25fd6d8 France goes to the polls in the presidential elections

Adam Bradshaw

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