French officials report a midday dip in turnout for the presidential runoff from 2012. Voters are choosing five years under former Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron or the anti-EU and anti-immigrant Marine Le Pen.
Some eligible voters in France appear to be staying home rather than turning out to choose between former Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron and the anti-immigrant Marine Le Pen. By midday, the Interior Ministry had reported a turnout rate of 28.2 percent, compared with a comparable figure of 30.7 percent at the same time during the last presidential runoff, in 2012, and 34.1 percent in 2007.
The pollster Odoxa expects just 75 percent of 47.6 million eligible voters to turn out - and 53 percent say they are more motivated to torpedo their less-preferred candidate than to elect the other. And Macron's supporters are especially ambivalent about their candidate. Though Macron has a 25-point margin in many opinion polls, 57 percent of people who intend to vote for the banker-cum-politician will do so defensively, while a full 56 percent of likely Le Pen voters truly back the far-right political scion.
"The expected victory ... wouldn't be a blank check for Emmanuel Macron," according to Odoxa. "A huge majority will not be backing him wholeheartedly."
A low turnout does not necessarily favor Le Pen. The last time fewer than 30 percent of voters had cast ballots by midday was in the 2002 presidential runoff, when just 26.2 percent had turned out by noon. Just under 80 percent of people eligible ultimately voted in that election, and they overwhelming sent Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie, packing: The National Front received just 18 percent.
For the first time, neither of France's two traditional parties has a candidate in the final round of the presidential election. In the wake of the UK's Brexit vote last summer and the US's election of Donald Trump in November, some have portrayed France's presidential runoff as a do-or-die day for centrist European democracy.
President Francois Hollande, who had decided not to run again in December, dutifully voted in central France on Sunday. Hollande, a Socialist who plucked Macron from virtual obscurity to name him economy minister in 2014, said voting "is always an important, significant act, heavy with heavy consequences."
Voters rewarded Le Pen's xenophobic campaign with 21 percent in the first round. Just before she voted Sunday in her stronghold of Henin-Beaumont, topless activists climbed scaffolding to unfurl a banner on a church: "Power for Marine, despair for Marianne" - referring to France's national symbol, a feminization of liberty and reason.
Macron, who received 24 percent of the first-round vote, voted near his holiday home in the northern seaside resort of Le Touquet.
mkg/jlw (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)