French Vote in First Round of Tight Presidential Race 

Rémy Rugira

People waiting to vote in the first round of presidential elections in northern Paris. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)
People waiting to vote in the first round of presidential elections in northern Paris. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)

French voted Sunday in the first round of presidential elections, amid fears of low turnout and with pre-election polls forecasting incumbent Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen likely heading to a runoff April 24.

Long lines stretched in front of some polling stations at midday in northeastern Paris, but many other Parisians were out enjoying the spring sunshine.

Paulette Jean-Baptiste was undecided about who to vote for. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)
Paulette Jean-Baptiste was undecided about who to vote for. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)

Retiree Paulette Jean-Baptiste was having a hard time choosing among the dozen presidential hopefuls. She was torn between President Emmanuel Macron, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Melenchon on the far left.

For Jean-Baptiste, who originally comes from Guadeloupe, cost-of-living worries are a key concern. Taxes are too high, she says – and it’s hard making ends meet.

Voter Marie backed far left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon for his social platform. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)
Voter Marie backed far left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon for his social platform. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)

IT manager Marie is backing Melenchon. But Marie says she believes Macron had a difficult presidency, managing the COVID-19 pandemic and now, the war in Ukraine. She says she also thinks France’s centrist leader could have had a stronger social platform.

The run-up to this vote saw Macron’s once-comfortable lead evaporate. Pre-election polls found Marine Le Pen enjoying a last-minute surge, following her campaign that emphasized cost of living concerns which voters like Jean-Baptiste have prioritized.

Le Pen has also worked to soften her anti-immigration, euro-skeptic image. It appears to have worked — especially since another presidential candidate, Eric Zemmour, is seen as even more right-wing than she.

Macron joined the campaigning late, claiming he was too busy doing his job — especially with the war in Ukraine. He staged just one major election rally before the first round and didn’t participate in any face-to-face debates against the other candidates.

Voting in the first round of presidential elections in northern Paris. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)
Voting in the first round of presidential elections in northern Paris. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)

Political analysts like Nicole Bacharan believe that cost him support.

“I guess part of the problem is also that he gives a sense to a lot of French people that he cares more about Ukraine than he cares about what’s going on in France. I don’t think it’s necessarily true,” she said.

Still, Paris voter Patrick Giraudeau has cast his ballot for Macron. Giraudeau broadly approves of Macron’s presidency. He’s also worried about a Le Pen win.

“The results of the last five years are for me not so bad. And secondly, and that’s very important, the challenger — she is for me dangerous… dangerous for France,” he said.

Macron faced Le Pen in a runoff five years ago and won the second round with about two-thirds of the vote. Analysts say this time around, the outcome is far from certain.

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