Voting starts in French presidential election's first round
Voting started in France on Sunday (April 10) in the first round of a presidential election, with far-right candidate Marine Le Pen posing an unexpected threat to President Emmanuel Macron's re-election hopes.
In Paris' 18th arrondissement, voters were seen casting their ballots when polling stations opened at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT). Voting ends at 1800 GMT when the first exit polls will be published. Such polls are usually very reliable in France.
Until just weeks ago, opinion polls pointed to an easy win for the pro-European Union, centrist Macron, who was boosted by his active diplomacy over Ukraine, strong economic recovery and the weakness of a fragmented opposition.
But his late entry into the campaign, with only one major rally, that even his supporters found underwhelming, and his focus on an unpopular plan to increase the retirement age, have dented the president's ratings, along with a steep rise in inflation.
Opinion polls still see Macron leading the first round and winning a runoff against Le Pen on April 24, but several surveys now say this is within the margin of error.
Going door to door, the advocacy group 'A Vote', is trying to inform and encourage young people to vote.
Pollster Ipsos last month forecast a record number of voters would abstain in this month's election, which if confirmed would raise the likelihood of a surprise, analysts said.
While young voters often engaged in issues such as climate change, analysts said abstainers eschew party politics due to lack of interest or because politicians were seen as failing to improve their lives.
Capucine Blond should vote on Sunday in her first presidential election but the disconnect the French teenager feels with the ruling elite is so great that she has decided there is no point. Blond, 18, who earns 500 euros per month working on a short-term contract at her town hall, said she doubted any of the candidates would improve her job prospects to the point where she could afford to move out of her mother's house.
"For me, politics, politicians, all of that, it's always debates that aren't constructive because no one is listening to one another and it never leads to anything," said Blond, who lives in the northern city of Arras.
Turnout rates in French elections have been on a downwards trend since the 1980s. In 2017, more than a fifth of French voters sat out at least one round, Interior Ministry data shows. A disproportionate number of them were youngsters, according to the official INSEE statistics office.
Ipsos forecast that nearly a third of voters may sit out this month's election. That would be a record for a presidential vote in France and exceed the number voting for any candidate.
Drama graduate Louis Labarthette, 25, voted for Macron in 2017 to keep Le Pen out of power but said he felt let down by the former investment banker's results over his five-year term.
"(Macron) was disappointing during his mandate. So, the spark of hope we had five years ago has disappeared," he said, speaking to Reuters in his home in the wealthy suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt.
Bucking the trend, Alioune Kebe, 25, while speaking to 'A Vote' volunteers checking that he is registered to vote, said he never felt the inclination to cast his ballot but said he felt motivated to go to the polls this time around.
"The best solution (to our problems) is to vote and not to abstain too much, because otherwise, we could never change the situation," adding that he is voting for far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon.
The presidential race appears set to be a re-run of the 2017 duel between incumbent President Emmanuel Macron and far-right challenger Marine Le Pen.
Twelve candidates are running for president. Among them are two far-right candidates, a communist, a hard-left veteran and contenders from the beleaguered mainstream centre-right and centre-left parties.