July 25, 2024

Pathfinder News

redefining news

France Votes: Macron Faces Far-Right Challenge

French voters are casting their ballots in the opening round of a presidential race that could become a cliffhanger. Emmanuel Macron has a fight on his hands from far-right challenger Marine Le Pen, who has been galvanised by a slick election campaign.

Forty-nine million people are eligible to decide which two of 12 candidates should take part in the run-off vote. But after four hours of voting, only a quarter of voters had turned out – the lowest for 20 years.

The campaign has been overshadowed first by the Covid-19 pandemic and then Russia’s invasion. The president has spent little time on the race, focusing instead on Europe’s reaction to the war in Ukraine.

However, one issue more than any other has predominated the election: the spiralling cost of living in energy bills and shopping baskets.

When he came to power with a new party in 2017, Emmanuel Macron swept away the old allegiances, and the two big parties are still nursing their wounds.

Socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo has struggled to be heard, while on the right Valérie Pécresse has failed to excite the Republicans.

Now, the main challenge to Mr Macron, 44, is coming from Ms Le Pen on the far right and Jean-Luc Mélenchon on the far left.

Some are even predicting the president could lose. For many voters, there is no longer a stigma about voting for the far right.

Philippe Bridou, a former Socialist voter in south-western city of Perpignan, told the BBC he had switched to the far right because “security is important, immigration is important too because it’s a subject now – and the left wing doesn’t discuss it”.

After she was trounced by Mr Macron in 2017, Ms Le Pen rebranded her National Front as National Rally, even if many of her policies have hardly changed. She has also come across as more moderate than far-right rival candidate Eric Zemmour.

“The election race isn’t over at all,” said Brice Teinturier of polling institute Ipsos. Turnout is key because the pollsters suggest as many as 28% of voters may not show – a level not seen for 20 years – and the least likely to bother are 25-34 year-olds. By midday turnout was three points down on five years ago, at 25.48%, but far higher than in 2002. Then there are the so-called votes blancs – the ballots left blank as a protest.

Tactical voting may also play a part, if voters decide to back one of the favourites because they have more of a chance of winning than, for example, Greens candidate Yannick Jadot.

The French economy is in decent shape and unemployment has fallen to 7.4%, but voters are not feeling the benefit. That’s because prices are going up across the board, at the shops, the market, the petrol pump and in domestic energy bills. The phrase you hear everywhere is pouvoir d’achat – which translates as spending power but is better known in English as the cost of living.