Voters across France were choosing a new president Sunday in an unusually tense and important election that could decide Europe's future, making a stark choice between pro-business independent Emmanuel Macron and far-right populist Marine Le Pen.
Voting stations opened across mainland France at 8am (0600 GMT) under the watch of 50,000 security forces guarding against extremist attacks. Polling agency projections and initial official results are expected as soon as the final stations close at 8pm (1800 GMT.)
The fate of the European Union may hang in the balance as France's 47 million voters decide whether to risk handing the presidency to Le Pen, who dreams of quitting the bloc and its common currency, or to play it safer with Macron, an unabashed pro-European who wants to strengthen the EU.
Global financial markets and France's neighbours are watching carefully. A "Frexit" would be far more devastating than Britain's departure, since France is the second-biggest economy to use the euro. The country also is a central pillar of the EU and its mission of keeping post-war peace via trade and open borders.
The vote will help gauge the strength of global populism after the victories last year of a referendum to take Britain out of the EU and Donald Trump's US presidential campaign. In France, it is a test of whether voters are ready to overlook the racist and anti-Semitic past of Le Pen's National Front party.
Either candidate would lead France into uncharted territory, since neither comes from the mainstream parties that dominate parliament and have run the country for decades. The winner will have to try to build a parliamentary majority in elections next month to make major changes.
Voting began Saturday in overseas territories, from Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, an archipelago near Newfoundland, to French Guiana and the French West Indies and beyond. French citizens also turned out in droves to vote in the Canadian province of Quebec.
Fears of outside meddling hung over the race after France's election campaign commission said Saturday that "a significant amount of data" – and some fake information – was leaked on social networks following the hacking attack on Macron.
The commission urged French media and citizens not to relay the leaked documents. French electoral laws impose a weekend news blackout on any campaigning and media coverage seen as swaying the election.
A big question remaining Sunday was how many people would bother to vote.
(FRANCE 24 with AP)
Date created : 2017-05-07