The French leader faced far-right candidate Marine Le Pen for the second time today in a historic vote that has all of Europe watching impatiently. Polls will close at 7pm (GMT) with the first estimated results announced around the same time. Gilet Jaunes (Yellow Vests) protesters are gearing up to take to the streets of the French capital this evening against the expected victory of Emmanuel Macron.
The official Facebook group of the national organisation called on supporters to join the protest at the Champs-Elysées at 7pm.
The event is titled “If Macron passes all of France on the Champs-Elysées!!!”
Gilet Jaunes protesters have been taking to the streets of Paris all week, calling for “anything but Macron”.
Opinion polls in recent days gave Macron a solid and slightly growing lead as analysts said Le Pen – despite her efforts to soften her image and tone down some of her National Rally party’s policies – remained unpalatable for many.
But a surprise Le Pen victory could not be ruled out. With polls showing neither candidate able to count on enough core supporters to win, much will depend on those still weighing up anxiety about the implications of a far-right presidency against anger at Macron’s record since his 2017 election.
A Le Pen victory would mark a political upheaval for Western democracies on a par with Brexit or the US election of Donald Trump in 2016, ending decades of rule by mainstream French leaders and bringing a new threat to the future of the European Union.
With three hours of voting left, 63.23 percent of voters had cast their ballots – two points down on 2017 when final turnout was already at its lowest point for nearly half a century.
Mr Macron, 44, who won against Ms Le Pen in the last presidential election five years ago, has warned of “civil war” if Ms Le Pen – whose policies include a ban on wearing Muslim headscarves in public – is elected and has called on democrats of all stripes to back him.
Ms Le Pen, 53, focused her campaign on the rising cost of living in the world’s seventh largest economy, which many French say has worsened with the surge in global energy prices.
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She has also zeroed in on Mr Macron’s abrasive leadership style, which she says shows an elitist contempt for ordinary people.
“The question on Sunday is simple: Macron or France,” she told a rally in the northern town of Arras on Thursday.
Ms Le Pen, who has also been criticised by Mr Macron for her past admiration of Russian President Vladimir Putin, rejects accusations of racism. She said her plans to give priority to French citizens for social housing and jobs and scrap a number of welfare benefits for foreigners would benefit all French, independently of their religion or origins.
Jean-Daniel Levy, of Harris Interactive pollsters, said opinion surveys showed Le Pen was unlikely to win, because that would require huge shifts in voter intentions.
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If Mr Macron prevails he will face a difficult second term, with none of the grace period that he enjoyed after his first victory, and protests likely over his plan to continue pro-business reforms, including raising the retirement age from 62 to 65.
If she unseats him, Ms Le Pen would seek to make radical changes to France’s domestic and international policies, and street protests could start immediately. Shockwaves would be felt across Europe and beyond.
Whoever comes out on top, a first major challenge will be to win parliamentary elections in June to secure a workable majority to implement their programmes.