France election: Voting begins in major election that could shakeup Europe
Sunday voters across France flooded to the ballot box to choose a new president in an unusually tense and important election that puts Europe in the balance as pro-business independent Emmanuel Macron and far-right populist Marine Le Pen will become the country’s next leader.
The polls opened mainland France at 8 a.m. local time under the watch of 50,000 security forces guarding against possible extremist attacks. Polling agency projections and initial official results are expected as soon as the final stations close at 8 p.m. Pollsters believe Macron has the advantage going into the day.
The courtyard outside the Louvre museum in Paris reopened after a brief security scare prompted an evacuation of the site where Macron plans to celebrate election night.
Explosives experts left the site after a suspicious bag prompted the evacuation of a few hundred people, primarily journalists preparing for Macron event. The museum itself was not evacuated or closed, and visitors continued entering and leaving.
The Louvre already was being heavily guarded after an extremist attacker targeted soldiers near the museum during the presidential campaign. Paris police said the evacuation was a “precautionary measure.”
France’s Interior Ministry said voter turnout at midday was running slightly lower than during the last presidential runoff in 2012. The ministry said 28 percent of eligible voters had cast ballots, compared with a half-day tally of 31 percent five years ago.
Commentators think a low turnout would benefit Le Pen, whose supporters are seen as more committed and therefore more likely to show up to vote.
Macron voted in the seaside resort of Le Touquet in northern France alongside his wife, Brigitte Macron. Le Pen cast her ballot just a hundred kilometers away in Henin-Beaumont, a small town controlled by her National Front party.
Macron, 39, a former Socialist economy minister and one-time banker who ran as an independent, was all smiles and petted a black dog as he stepped out of his vacation home. For security reasons, he was driven to his polling station nearby.
Le Pen, 48, was able to vote without any incident after feminist activists were briefly detained a couple of hours earlier Sunday for hanging a big anti-Le Pen banner from a church in the northern town.
The vote Sunday 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 U.S. presidential campaign.In France, it is a test of whether voters are ready to overlook Le Pen’s sketchy history.
Le Pen has broadened the party’s appeal by tapping into — and fueling — anger at globalization and fears associated with immigration and Islamic extremism. Macron has argued that France must rethink its labor laws to better compete globally and appealed for unity and tolerance that Le Pen called naive.
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 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 neighbors 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.