With balloting already underway in some of France’s overseas territories and foreign embassies, an estimated 47 million eligible French citizens are preparing to vote in Sunday’s presidential runoff in a contest that has been compared to the Nov. 8 U.S. election.
The nation’s 70,000 polling stations open at 8:00 a.m. local time (2:00 a.m. EDT) for 12 hours. Results and polling projections will not be available until the polls close.
Following the first-round voting on April 23, the contest narrowed down to the top-two vote getters, Marine Le Pen, 48, of the National Front Party, and Emmanuel Macron, 39, of the newly formed En Marche! (On the Move) Party.
Macron, a former investment banker and former Minister of the Economy in the Socialist government, is predicted to pull off a 65-point win in Sunday’s runoff, according to the latest polling. He is also the bookies’ favorite among those who put their money where their opinions are. Macron has never held elected office.
Le Pen, an attorney, has at times sounded like candidate Donald Trump with her strong nationalist message calling for expulsion of illegal immigrants, closure of mosques linked to extremism and a withdrawal from the European Union. She is an outspoken critic of globalization.
Macron, endorsed by former U.S. President Barack Obama, has staked out a position as a centrist candidate with a pro-business message. His newly created En Marche! Party has transcended France’s traditional left-right politics and allowed him to be seen as an alternative to Le Pen for those who supported other candidates in the first round.
Financial analyst are predicting a dip in global markets should Le Pen win.
The Macron campaign announced Friday that a “massive hack” of its documents and emails – totaling nine gigabytes, according to reports – had taken place, with the information uploaded to a file-sharing website just hours before France’s legal prohibition on campaign communications went into effect.
Links to the material were anonymously published under the profile EMLINKS on Pastebin, shared on the 4chan forum and promoted on Twitter and WikiLeaks. While the campaign acknowledged the authenticity of its leaked documents, it noted that the trove had been salted with fake ones to “sow doubt and disinformation.”
France’s election campaign commission warned that anyone publicizing the stolen information in the 44-hour blackout period before the election’s completion could face criminal charges.
The Le Pen campaign lodged complaints of tampered ballots that favor Macron. Administrators have reportedly received ballot papers for both candidates with those for Le Pen “systematically torn up.” The Interior Ministry has been asked to investigate.
The two candidates draw their strongest support from different regions of the country, with a sharp divide between urban and rural areas. In April, Macron took nearly 35 percent of the Paris vote, while Le Pen received less that five percent. This despite an Islamist terror attack in Paris only three days before that killed a police officer.
Le Pen’s National Front Party, once scorned for its racism and anti-Semitism, is now closer to winning the presidency than it has ever been. Working-class opposition to immigration and globalization has widened her support base.
“We changed everything,” win or lose, Le Pen told Associated Press Friday.