French election: Macron faces 12 contenders as race begins
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Voters are deciding between 12 candidates, including incumbent Emmanuel Macron, far-right candidates Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour and far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
While Mr Macron has long appeared to be the favourite to win, Ms Le Pen has seen a surge in the polls in recent days.
Polls now put Macron still in the lead with about 26 percent, with Le Pen following close behind at 25 percent.
Luc Rouban, a political scientist at Sciences Po in Paris, said: “Marine Le Pen has never been this close to clinching the presidency.”
The two candidates who gain the most votes in the first round will move on to the second round, which will take place on April 24.
Official results will be published later tonight, with first projections from polling institutes going live from 8pm.
Follow our live blog for continuous updates…
Macron and Le Pen facing low turnout
According to Politico’s Cornelius Hirsch, turnout is expected to be particularly low in the Paris metropolitan area, which was a stronghold for Emmanuel Macron in 2017.
But turnout is also expected to drop in many areas which formed Marine Le Pen’s core support in 2017.
Expert pinpoints issue that could sink Macron
Emmanuel Macron has been warned not to read too much into polls as they often “underestimate” the populist right.
Political analyst Jeff Greenfield highlighted that many polls have “underestimated the populist right”.
He wrote on Twitter: “One note about the French election: polls in the US (Trump in ‘16 and ‘20) Britain (Brexit) and elsewhere have underestimated the populist Right…”
Mr Greenfield added: “Be curious to see if that happens tomorrow (right now Macron has a small lead that has been shrinking).”
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