France: Polls Show Le Pen Closing On Macron As Presidential Election Begins On Sunday


French voters are preparing to cast their ballot in the first round of the presidential elections on Sunday.

Recent polls have shown a marked fall in President Emmanuel Macron’s lead over his main challenger, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.

Campaigning has now ended, and voter turnout is expected to be lower than in previous elections in France.

Although the race has been overshadowed by the war in Ukraine, a key issue for many voters is the cost of living.

Mr. Macron and Ms. Le Pen are the firm favorites, but there are 10 other candidates competing to reach the second round on 24 April.

A month ago, Ms. Le Pen was trailing Mr. Macron by 10 points and fighting for a place in the second round against him.

Now she is seen as the favorite to challenge him for the presidency after this first round. If she does make it through to the 24 April run-off, opinion polls suggest for the first time that a Le Pen victory is within the margin of error, says the BBC’s Lucy Williamson in Paris.

Mr. Macron’s poll ratings were initially boosted by his diplomatic efforts during the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but voters remain very concerned about increasing bills in France.

Ms. Le Pen has worked hard to tone down her image in recent years and present herself as relatable, moderate, and fit for the highest office.

Her program has put forward a consistent anti-immigration, anti-EU message that has resonated with disaffected voters, our correspondent says.

Mr. Macron is now proposing full employment within five years, cutting taxes for households and businesses, and paying for his program by gradually raising the retirement age from 62 to 65 – increasing the pension age is unpopular with voters already facing a cost of living crunch.

Analysts are predicting that voter turnout will be so low that the record abstention rate of 22.2% set in 2017 will be surpassed.

“We have experienced a strange campaign that was at odds with what we experienced in the past presidential elections,” Frederic Dabi, director of the Ifop polling institute, told the AFP news agency.