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Sunday, May 7, 2017

With Low Turnout, Le Pen Has A Chance

Macron favorite as France votes for 

new president, early turnout low

By Ingrid Melander and Sybille de La Hamaide | PARIS
French people were voting on Sunday in a presidential election pitting a pro-
European Union centrist against a eurosceptic, anti-immigration far-rightist,
with early figures indicating turnout could be low, but above most recent forecasts.
Opinion polls predict 39-year-old ex-economy minister Emmanuel Macron will
win the five-year presidency, seeing off the challenge from National Front leader
Marine Le Pen after an election campaign full of scandal and upsets.
Voting ends at 8 pm (1800 GMT) with early projections of the result by pollsters
due soon after. The last opinion polls on Friday gave Macron between 61.5 and
 63 percent of the vote. Forecasts of the result proved accurate for the tight first
round race between 11 candidates last month.
A victory for Macron, who wants to deregulate the economy and deepen EU
 integration, would contrast with recent nativist, anti-globalization voting
outcomes like those that will see Britain quit the EU and which made Donald
Trump U.S. president.
Should an upset occur and Le Pen win, the very future of the EU could be on
 the line given her desire to close borders, dump the euro currency, and tear up
trade treaties.
But even in defeat the 48 year-old's vote is likely to be about twice what her
party scored the last time it reached the presidential second round in 2002,
demonstrating the scale of voter disaffection with mainstream politics in France.
By midday, both candidates had voted, he in Le Touquet on the north coast,
and she in the northern town of Henin-Beaumont.
Figures from the Interior Ministry said 28.23 percent of voters had turned out
 by midday, the lowest at that point since the 2002 presidential poll, when it
was 26.19 percent. A poll on Friday had predicted a final turnout of 75 percent,
down from 80 percent plus in 2002, 2007 and 2012.

Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, and candidate for the
 2017 presidential election, waves from his car as he leaves his home during the second round of the
election, in Paris, France, May 7, 2017. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier
Pollsters see likely abstentions as highest among left-wing voters who feel
disenfranchised by Sunday's choice.
It remained unclear what the final turnout would be, and what a high or low
showing could mean for the outcome. One extra unknown is the level of blank
 votes and spoilt ballots.
Markets have risen in response to Macron's widening lead over his rival after a
 bitter television debate on Wednesday.
"We increased our equity exposure and added some French stocks after the first
 round," said Francois Savary, chief investment officer at Geneva-based fund
 management firm Prime Partners. "The major political risk of a Le Pen victory
 appears to be disappearing."
After a campaign in which favorites dropped out of the race one after the other,
Le Pen is nevertheless closer to elected power than the far right has been in
France since World War Two.
If opinion polls prove accurate and the country elects its youngest-ever
president rather than its first female leader, Macron himself has said himself
he expects no honeymoon period.
Close to 60 percent of those who plan to vote for Macron say they will do so to
stop Le Pen from being elected to lead the euro zone's second-largest economy,
rather than because they fully support the former banker turned politician.
"I don't necessarily agree with either of the candidates," psychotherapist Denise
 Dulliand, who was voting in Annecy in the mountainous southeast, told Reuters.
"But I wanted to express my voice, to be able to say that I came, even if I am
really not satisfied with what is happening in our country, and that I would like
 to see less stupidity, less money and more fraternity."
The battle between mainstream and more radical policies in
 France will continue into parliamentary elections next month
 in which the new president will try to secure a majority in
 parliament. One poll this week suggested that was within
reach for Macron.
Much will also depend on how the candidates score on
Sunday. Le Pen's niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, on
Thursday told L'Opinion daily that winning 40 percent
of the vote would be "a huge victory" for the National Front.
Whoever wins will open a new chapter in French politics,
 after the big left- and right-wing parties -- the Socialists
 and The Republicans -- that have ruled France for decades
both suffered humiliating defeats in the election's first round.
The campaign was hit by yet another surprise on Friday
 night, just as the quiet period in which politicians are
 forbidden from commenting began. Macron's team said
a massive hack had dumped emails, documents and
campaign-financing information online.
With security a prime concern, more than 50,000 police
 officers were on duty on Sunday. A series of militant
attacks in Paris, Nice and elsewhere in France have killed more than 230
people in recent years.
The courtyard of the Louvre Museum in Paris, where Macron is due to speak
after the result, was briefly evacuated on Sunday after a suspect bag was found.
(Reporting by Ingrid Melander, Marina Depetris and Bate Felix; Additional
reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Andrew Callus and Catherine Evans)