French election: Voters go to the polls amid heightened security across France
French voters have gone to the polls 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.
Early figures of the voter turnout were slightly higher than at the same stage in France’s 2012 election, with the final turnout on course to beat the figure of 79.48 per cent in 2012.
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.
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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.”
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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.
Macron voted in the chic Normandy seaside resort of Le Touquet with wife Brigitte, his former high school teacher who is 25 years his senior.
The French Interior Ministry says voter turnout as of midday is 28.54% – just up on the same time in 2012 #frenchelection