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PARIS — Emmanuel Macron faces off against far-right challenger Marine Le Pen again in the country’s presidential election, in a repeat of the 2017 battle.
The French will vote in the second round on April 24, after Macron and Le Pen became the top two candidates in the first round on April 10.
While no sitting president has been re-elected since Jacques Chirac in 2002 – conservative Nicolas Sarkozy and socialist Francois Hollande have only been elected once – Macron is the frontrunner this year. But the race is also shaping up to be much tighter than in 2017, with all polls showing far-right leader Marine Le Pen set to do much better than she did five years ago.
Here’s what you need to know to watch the election like a pro.
How does the two-round system work?
On April 10, the French voted in the first round of the presidential election. They chose Macron and Le Pen from 12 candidates – including seasoned politicians and newbies.
Macron and Le Pen, the two candidates with the most votes, now face a final round this Sunday to decide who will be at the Elysee Palace for the next five years.
A media blackout begins at midnight Friday and ends Sunday when the last polling station closes at 8 p.m. During this period, politicians are not allowed to campaign or speak publicly. Newspapers and television channels will have to wait until the media blackout is lifted before showing the polls or broadcasting the results of the estimates, so as not to influence citizens who have not yet voted.
The first vote estimates by the major pollsters – usually close to the final result – will be released at 8 p.m. on Sunday, with the official results released later that night.
President Emmanuel Macron is running for re-election. The president-candidate has pushed a reformist agenda at home, including highly controversial ideas on labor rights, and presented a big economic package to deal with the COVID crisis. He has played a prominent role on the international stage – but not always successfully, as shown by his efforts to stop Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.
The National Gathering Marine Le Pen hinted that this presidential campaign will be her last – and it looks like she will. His campaign, which focused on the cost of living and economic hardship, struck a chord amid soaring energy prices caused by the war in Ukraine. She also managed to partly sweep her longtime support for Russian President Vladimir Putin under the rug and eclipse her far-right rival, TV pundit-turned-politician Eric Zemmour, who did not qualify for the second round. While she has withdrawn her most sweeping proposals to exit the euro and leave the EU since her run in 2017, much of her agenda – including drastic changes to the single market – is largely incompatible with the bloc as it currently stands and would deal a heavy blow. to the EU.
For more survey data from across Europe, visit POLITICS Survey of surveys.
Who has a real chance of winning?
Emmanuel Macron should win on Sunday. According to POLITICO’s poll of polls, Macron could be re-elected with 55% of the vote in the second round, 10 points ahead of Le Pen.
This is a big change from 2017, when Macron won with 66% of the vote and Le Pen only got 33%.
The French president entered the political arena at the last minute this year and his lackluster campaign failed to strike a chord. Recent revelations about the state’s overreliance on consultancies have also put a strain on his re-election bid.
The gap between the two candidates narrowed considerably before the first round. But since then, support for Macron has increased again.
FRANCE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTORAL POLL POLLS
For more survey data from across Europe, visit POLITICS Survey of surveys.
What happened between the two rounds?
More campaigning and a TV debate.
Over the past two weeks, Macron and Le Pen have hit the ground running trying to win over those who didn’t vote for them in the first round or who didn’t turn out to vote.
Macron made a series of targeted campaign visits to crucial constituencies and gave a series of interviews, from the former France Inter radio station to a website specializing in rap music. Le Pen continued with a busy schedule of field visits and spent the last day of his campaign in the Pas-de-Calais department in northern France.
But the most iconic moment was the traditional televised debate where the two finalists faced off on Wednesday.
Considered one of the highlights of the campaign, the debate used to be very popular with viewers. This time, only 16.5 million French people watched it, the worst audience rate since the start of the debate.
Le Pen fared much better than in 2017, when his disastrous performance sent polls plummeting and damaged his credibility on economic issues. But Macron did not miss the opportunity to attack the far-right candidate on her economic program as well as on her proposal to ban the headscarf in public and accuse her of being in the pay of Putin. Le Pen criticized Macron’s first term and his pension reform.
You can find the highlights of the debate here.
The televised duel has been a tradition since 1974 but it is not legally obligatory — in 2002, Jacques Chirac refused to engage with the far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, the father of Marine, who had for the first time reached the second round in an upset victory still vivid in the French collective psyche.
Will people really show up?
The French are generally quite avid voters, with turnouts around 80% in recent presidential elections. In the first round earlier this month, 26% of voters decided to stay home, a fairly high abstention as the presidential election progressed but lower than polls had predicted.
However, the French are exhausted by the coronavirus crisis and the war in Ukraine. And Macron’s perception as the inevitable winner as well as his low-key campaigning didn’t help. Both tours also coincide with school holidays in various parts of the country
For Macron, who faces his greatest challenges from the far right and the far left, voter apathy poses a threat in itself. Not only could this favor her challenger who can count on motivated bases to reveal themselves for her; he offers his opponents the possibility of presenting his expected re-election as lacking legitimacy.
Has Ukraine changed anything?
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February overshadowed the French presidential campaign and helps explain why voter turnout has been quite low.
This benefited early Macron, as far-right and far-left candidates had to explain or justify past comments praising Putin, while the French president presented himself as a warlord capable of protecting Europe.
Overall, the war has shifted the French political conversation from questions of identity and COVID to energy and purchasing power – which is actually the most important issue for voters.
Why should I care?
What is at stake is the name of the person who will lead France for the next five years and, as such, will probably have a decisive influence on the EU. The election will also determine the shape of the country’s political landscape in the years to come.
Needless to say, Le Pen’s victory is experienced as a nightmare in Brussels. Even if the right-wing candidate has softened some of her Eurosceptic positions, many of her proposals would concretely push France out of the Union.
As in 2017, the first round deeply marked the domestic political scene.
The traditional centre-left and centre-right parties achieved disastrous results in the first round. In parallel, the leftist movement La France insoumise, led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, recorded an unprecedented score of 22%. Mélenchon came in third place, after Macron and Le Pen, and dreams of getting his revenge in the June legislative elections, which he presented as a “third round” and capable of propelling him to the post of prime minister.
I heard there’s another election around the corner… is that right?
Yes. While the parties have been bickering for weeks over constituencies, strategies and alliances, the French political class is already preparing for the next electoral stage: the June legislative elections, which will define the majority in the country’s National Assembly, or lower house of parliament.
Turnout is traditionally lower in legislative elections, which also take place every five years. Voters tend to choose parliamentarians from the same political family as the president they have just elected.
Nevertheless, if Macron wins, it could prove more difficult to have an absolute majority in the National Assembly compared to 2017, because his potential victory will necessarily be much weaker than five years ago. Meanwhile, he will have to cement alliances with powerful internal rivals such as former heavyweight Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who is seeking to expand his own political movement – dubbed Horizons.