The ballot boxes are open in mainland France for the second round of the presidential election in which voters will choose to give Emmanuel Macron another five years in power or elect Marine Le Pen.
Macron is the favorite to win, but any second term will be determined if it ends in a convincing victory. He and Le Pen must have won over the nearly 50% of voters who chose neither of them in the first round of voting two weeks ago.
The level of abstention and the number of people protesting against the blank vote, as many supporters of the radical left’s “third man” Jean-Luc Mélenchon have promised, could affect the result.
Former prime minister Édouard Philippe, mayor of Le Havre, was one of the first to vote at his local polling station. Macron will vote in Le Touquet where he and his wife Brigitte have a home. Le Pen voted in Hénin-Beaumont, in the heart of his stronghold in northern France shortly after 11 a.m. She was greeted outside the polling station by a crowd of supporters chanting “Marine” and jostling to take selfies with her.
Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris and Socialist Party presidential candidate who was at the back of the pack in the first round, cast her ballot in Paris 45 minutes after the polls opened. Valérie Pécresse, candidate for the conservative Les Républicains, voted shortly after. They were followed by Mélenchon, who voted in Marseille and the Prime Minister, Jean Castex, voted in his hometown of Prades in the Pyrénées-Orientales in southern France.
Polling stations close at 7 p.m. in most of mainland France and at 8 p.m. in major cities. An estimate of the result based on the tally of a number of specific polling stations chosen as representative of France will be announced at 8 p.m. Although just an estimate, it’s usually a reliable indication of who won, unless it’s too close to track and within a margin of error.
Due to the time difference, the French overseas territories began voting on Saturday.
The campaign officially ended at midnight on Friday when all opinion polls ceased and since then candidates have been forced to keep a low profile.
Macron’s program includes a cap on fuel prices, indexation of pensions and a gradual increase in the retirement age to 65. He also campaigned for a stronger Europe.
Le Pen promised to lower the retirement age from 62 to 60 for those who started working before the age of 20, to lower the VAT on fuel from 20% to 5.5% and a new law giving French nationals priority for housing, employment and benefits as well as the deportation of illegal immigrants.
Macron and Le Pen won places in the second round two weeks ago when it received just under 9.8 million votes – 27.85% of the votes cast – and she obtained 8.13 million votes – 23.15 % of votes cast. Mélenchon came third with 7.7 million votes, 420,000 less than Le Pen. Candidates from the mainstream right and left were both trailing with Pécresse in fifth place and Hidalgo in 10th place; both polled below 5%, meaning they won’t get their campaign expenses reimbursed.