Free Press Journal

France votes in presidential nailbiter

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Paris : France voted on Sunday under heavy security in the first round of the most unpredictable presidential election in decades, with the outcome seen as vital for the future of the beleaguered European Union.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron are the favourites to progress to a run-off on May 7 but the result is too close to call in a deeply divided country.

Le Pen, the 48-year-old leader of the National Front (FN), hopes to capitalise on security fears that were catapulted to the fore of the campaign after the fatal shooting of a policeman on Paris’s Champs Elysees avenue claimed by the Islamic State group.


Aiming to ride a wave of populism that led Donald Trump to the White House and Britain to vote for Brexit, Le Pen wants France to abandon the euro and intends to call a referendum on withdrawing from the EU as well.

Her ambitions have led observers to predict that a Le Pen victory could be a fatal blow for the EU, already weakened by Britain’s vote to leave. Macron, 39, is seeking to become France’s youngest ever president and has campaigned on a strongly pro-EU and pro- business platform.

Seeking to benefit from a worldwide move away from established political parties, the former banker and economy minister formed his own movement, “En Marche” (“On the Move”), that he says is “neither to the left nor to the right.”

But polls show scandal-tainted conservative candidate Francois Fillon, a former prime minister, and hard-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon are also in with a fighting chance of finishing among the top two candidates and reaching the all-important second round. Le Pen cast her ballot in Henin-Beaumont, a former coal mining town in northern France that has an FN mayor.  AFP

In a nutshell

In the wake of the policeman’s killing on Thursday, 50,000 police and 7,000 soldiers have been deployed around France to protect voters.

Analysts believe the attack so late in the campaign could hand an advantage to candidates seen as taking a hardline on security issues.

A race that began with the surprise nomination of Fillon as right-wing candidate in November shifted into a higher gear in December when unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande decided not to seek re-election.

Hollande’s five years in office have been dogged by a sluggish economy and the constant terror threat.

Fillon was the early frontrunner until his support waned after he was charged following accusations he gave his British-born wife a fictional job as his parliamentary assistant for which she was paid nearly 700,000 euros (USD 750,000) of public money.

Though there are four main contenders in the election, a total of 11 candidates are taking part.