French go to the polls

After a divisive election campaign, France decides on Sunday whether to give centrist Emmanuel Macron five more years or replace him with its first far-right president in Marine Le Pen.

She faces an uphill battle, with the polls giving her 44-year-old opponent a possible 10-point lead.

In order to win, they both need to attract voters who backed other candidates in the first round.

But these are two polarising figures in France, and no votes are guaranteed.

Macron’s detractors call him arrogant and a president of the rich, while the far-right leader has been accused of having close ties to Russia’s president.

Macron came to power on a whirlwind promise of change but many complain they are yet to see it. His presidency has been buffeted by protests, the COVID pandemic and now rising prices.

Marine Le Pen, meanwhile, has learned from the mistakes she made when she was resoundingly beaten by the same opponent in the second round in 2017.

This is her third tilt at the presidency and if she fails it could be her last.

The great unknown in this election is how many voters will refuse to back either candidate, whether by casting a blank ballot or not turning out at all. Much of France is on holiday and turnout could be historically low.

The campaign has been short but the choice for voters is clear, between a pro-European sitting president and a nationalist candidate who seeks to ban the headscarf and restrict immigration.

Polls open at 8 a.m. local time, with voting set to end some 12 hours later.

Whatever the result, Macron will address voters on Sunday evening from a stage at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. (BBC)

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