France votes in cliffhanger election
Polls have opened in France in the first round of a bitterly fought presidential election that is crucial to the future of Europe.
Nearly 47 million voters will decide, under tight security, whether to back a pro-EU centrist newcomer, a scandal-ridden veteran conservative, a far-left admirer of Fidel Castro or a highly controversial woman who would shut borders and ditch the euro.
Emmanuel Macron, 39, a centrist ex-banker who set up his party just a year ago, is the opinion polls’ favourite to win the first round and progress to the two-person run-off on May 7, alongside far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen.
But conservative Francois Fillon is making a bit of a comeback after being plagued for months by a corruption scandal, and leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon’s ratings have surged in recent weeks.
Adding uncertainty to France’s most unpredictable election in decades, pollsters say they might not be able to give precise estimates of the outcome tonight because small and medium-sized polling stations will be open one hour longer than in past elections.
Le Pen has told supporters “the EU will die.” She wants to return to the Franc, re-denominate the country’s debt stock, tax imports and reject international treaties.
She would struggle to win a majority to carry out such radical moves, but their growing popularity worries both investors and France’s EU partners.
Both US President Donald Trump and his predecessor Barack Obama have shown interest in the vote.
Obama spoke with Macron over the phone on Thursday, and Trump said the following day he expected the killing of a policeman by a suspected Islamist in Paris to boost Le Pen’s chances.
Campaigning came to an abrupt halt after the Champs-Elysees gun attack by 39-year-old Karim Cheurfi.
A note praising the Islamic State group was found near his body.
About 67,000 polling stations will be monitored by more than 50,000 police officers.