French voters headed to polling stations nationwide Sunday for the first round of the country’s presidential election, one that seemed for months like a shoo-in for French President Emmanuel Macron but is now a toss-up amid a strong challenge from the far right's Marine Le Pen, per the AP.
- Incumbent's trouble: Macron, a centrist, is asking France's 48 million voters for a second five-year term—but there are 11 other candidates and widespread voter apathy standing in his way. Many French also blame Macron for not doing enough to help them cope with the soaring costs of food, fuel, and heating, or say he has ignored domestic concerns amid his focus on the war in Ukraine.
- Big implications: With war raging on the European Union's eastern border, this French presidential election has significant international implications, including the potential to reshape France’s post-war identity and indicate whether European populism is on the ascendant or in the decline.
- What's next: The top two vote-getters in Sunday's election advance to a decisive runoff April 24—unless one candidate gets more than half of the nationwide vote Sunday, which has never happened in France. The best bet is that Macron and Le Pen will wind up in the runoff. In the campaign’s closing stages, the pain of inflation and rising prices became the dominant election theme for many low-income households. They could drive many voters Sunday into the arms of Le Pen, Macron’s political nemesis.
- Far right: With populist Viktor Orban winning a fourth consecutive term as Hungary’s prime minister just days ago, eyes have now turned to France’s resurgent far-right candidates—especially National Rally leader Le Pen, who wants to ban Muslim headscarves in French streets and halal and kosher butchers, and drastically reduce immigration from outside Europe.
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