French voters began casting their ballots Sunday for the presidential run-off between centrist incumbent Emmanuel Macron and his challenger Marine Le Pen, after a fractious campaign that has seen the far right come its closest yet to winning power.
Macron went into the election with a stable lead in opinion polls, an advantage he consolidated in the frenetic final days of campaigning, including a no-holds-barred performance in the pre-election debate.
But analysts have cautioned that Macron, who rose to power in 2017 aged 39 as the country’s youngest-ever modern leader, can take nothing for granted given forecasts of low turnout that could sway the result in either direction.
He must above all hope that left-wing voters who backed other candidates in the first round on April 10 will back the former investment banker and his pro-business, reformist agenda to stop Le Pen and her populist programme.
Voting stations will close at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT), when preliminary results will be released that usually predict the final result with a high degree of accuracy.
Some 48.7 million French are eligible to vote.
To take account of the time difference with mainland France, polls opened earlier in overseas territories, home to almost three million French.
The first vote in the election was cast midday on Saturday, Paris time, by a 90-year-old man in the tiny island territory of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, off the northern coast of Canada.
Polls subsequently opened in France’s islands in the Caribbean and the South American territory of French Guiana, followed by territories in the Pacific and then the Indian Ocean.
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