Start of voting in the first round of the French presidential election

Polls opened across France on Sunday for the first round of the country’s presidential election, where up to 48 million eligible voters will choose between 12 candidates.

President Emmanuel Macron is seeking a second five-year term, with strong opposition from the far right.

Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. local time on Sunday and closed at 7 p.m. in most places and an hour later in some major cities.

Unless someone gets more than half of the national vote, there will be a deciding second round between the top two candidates on Sunday, April 24.

Far-Right and Far-Left Challengers

In addition to Macron, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and far-left instigator Jean-Luc Mélenchon are among the personalities vying for the presidential election at the Élysée.

Macron, a political centrist, looked for months like a shoo-in to become the first French president in 20 years to win a second term. But that scenario faded in the final stages of the campaign as the pain of inflation and pump, food and energy prices returned as dominant election themes for many low-income households. revenue. They could lead many voters on Sunday into the arms of far-right leader Marine Le Pen, Macron’s political enemy.

French President Emmanuel Macron, a candidate for re-election, talks to supporters during a campaign stop in Spezet, France, April 5. (Stephane Mahé/Reuters)

Macron beat Le Pen by a landslide to become France’s youngest president in 2017. The victory for the former banker – now 44 – was seen as a victory against populist and nationalist politics, a la following the election of Donald Trump to the White House and Great Britain. vote to leave the European Union, both in 2016.

As populist Viktor Orban won a fourth consecutive term as Hungarian prime minister a few days ago, eyes have now turned to far-right French candidates, in particular National Rally leader Le Pen, who wants to ban the Muslim headscarf in the streets and halal and kosher butchers, and drastically reduce immigration from outside Europe. This election has the potential to reshape post-war French identity and indicate whether European populism is rising or declining.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen casts her ballot in the first round of the presidential election at a polling station in Hénin-Beaumont, northern France. (Michel Pinler/Associated Press)

In the meantime, if Macron wins, it will be considered a victory for the European Union. Observers say Macron’s re-election would mean a real likelihood of increased cooperation and investment in European security and defence, especially with a new pro-EU German government.

As war burns in the east of the EU, French voters will cast their ballots in a presidential election whose outcome will have international implications. France is the second-largest economy in the 27-member bloc, the only one to have a veto in the UN Security Council and its only nuclear power. And as Russian President Vladimir Putin continues the war in Ukraine, French power will help shape Europe’s response.

A French voter passes identification posters on his way to cast his vote in the first round of the 2022 French presidential election, in Montreal, on Saturday. (Peter McCabe/The Canadian Press)

Russia’s war in Ukraine has given Macron an opportunity to demonstrate his influence on the international stage and restore his pro-NATO image in electoral debates. Macron is the lone frontrunner to back the alliance while other candidates have differing opinions on France’s role within it. Mélenchon is among those who want to abandon it completely, saying it only produces quarrels and instability.

Such a development would be a blow to an alliance built to protect its members in the nascent Cold War 73 years ago.