Moment of truth for divided France

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron (centre) greeting supporters as he leaves after voting in Le Touquet, northern France, yesterday. Proponents of the European Union are rooting for Mr Macron, a former economy minister, against his far-rig
French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron (centre) greeting supporters as he leaves after voting in Le Touquet, northern France, yesterday. Proponents of the European Union are rooting for Mr Macron, a former economy minister, against his far-right rival Marine Le Pen.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Deeply divided French voters cast their ballots yesterday to decide which of two political outsiders who have never held elected office they want as their next president. Turnout was a moderate 65.3 per cent by 11pm Singapore time, the Interior Ministry said.

The stakes are high, not just for France but also for Europe, which is rooting for centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, 39, against anti-immigration far-right leader Marine Le Pen, 48, who strongly opposes the European Union.

The growing tide of populism in recent years across Europe has got its proponents on edge.

More than 60 per cent of voters had cast or were planning to cast their ballots for Mr Macron according to surveys yesterday, Belgian media said. Pollsters are not allowed under French law to publish polls before voting closes.

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Nevertheless, securing more than 30 per cent of the vote would still represent a major coup for Ms Le Pen, her National Front party and Europe's nationalist right.

Many voters said they were not happy with the choices on offer.

One of them, an elderly man who refused to give his name saying the election was secret, summed up the downbeat mood. "I'm not satisfied. Like always, it's not a choice - and I'm tired of the arguments," he told The Straits Times.

Mr Macron, who quit as economy minister in the outgoing Francois Hollande administration to start his own En Marche! movement, is well aware that there will be no electoral honeymoon for the winner.

Coming soon after the presidential election are next month's legislative elections.

A massive leak of documents and other materials from his election campaign last Friday, that is being blamed on Moscow, may also complicate things for him.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 08, 2017, with the headline 'Moment of truth for divided France'. Print Edition | Subscribe