After an unusual campaign, marked by the war in Ukraine, the French are pondering before Sunday’s vote the first round of the presidential election, with incumbent President Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen running.
After weeks, even months of campaigning, newspapers are warning of the “democracy test” represented by Sunday’s elections, from which the two candidates, out of a total of 12, will run into conflict with the keys to the Elysee on April 24.
The abstention rate is one of the biggest unknowns in the election, which took place after Macron’s first term marked by social protests against his policies toward the popular classes, the coronavirus pandemic, and now the effects of the war in Ukraine.
Many political scientists believe that the record of abstentions in the first round of 2002 (28.4%) could be broken, which contributed to the fact that conservative Jacques Chirac and the far-right Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father, faced each other in the second round. In 2017, the abstention rate was 22.2%.
Le Parisien analyzed Saturday that “the hesitation is also a sign of democratic fatigue”, with the campaign common denominator being the French’s “interest in the world around them and their immediate future”, but there is no consensus.
“Around me, no one is voting and everyone is holding back,” said Christine Mazud, a 75-year-old retiree, at a Paris market.
Macron, 44, has played the trick of a stable president in times of crisis and reformist. Le Pen, 53, has chosen to present herself as the defender of purchasing power, in the context of concern about rising energy and food prices.
These were the main issues that characterized the electoral debate which, depending on current events, also briefly addressed immigration, the riots on the French island of Corsica and the controversial recruitment of external advisors by the French government, among others.
Unlike previous elections, the issue of climate change was not very present. To warn of the climate emergency, left-wing organizations have called several rallies in France on Saturday, where some of the candidates can be seen.
International alliances are at stake
After Think Day, when polling and campaign broadcasting is prohibited, polling stations will open at 08:00 on Sunday, except for some outdoor areas that will do so hours earlier due to the time difference.
From 20:00, when the last schools are closed, the results will be announced, which may come as surprises. Leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon has a chance to avoid a repeat of the 2017 scenario, with Macron and Le Pen on the ballot.
The results will be followed around the world, with regional newspaper Quest France asserting on Saturday that the election was “important” because of “France’s weight in Europe” and because “the choice of its international alliances is at stake”.
With his attack on Ukraine beginning on February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin shook the world chessboard and, in France, revived traditional debates about what position to take toward Moscow.
Although the presidential candidates unanimously condemned the military operation, consensus about the degree of firmness in the international response against Putin has been broken, with some even calling for NATO to leave once the conflict is over.
The Russian invasion also sharpened the rise in energy prices, which in turn fueled inflation and French fears of a possible loss of purchasing power. This aspect sparked the protests that rocked Macron’s rule in 2018 and 2019.
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