Low turnout in French election adds to uncertainty

Participation in the first round of the French presidential vote stood at 65 percent at 5pm on Sunday, the interior ministry said, down sharply from the same point in the 2017 election.

Low turnout in French election adds to uncertainty
Scrutineers perform the votes' counting for the French presidential election first round at a polling station in La Possession on the French Indian ocean island of La Reunion, on April 10, 2022. (Photo by Richard BOUHET / AFP)

Analysts have forecast that turnout for the vote, in which President Emmanuel Macron is seeking a second five-year term, could be the lowest since 2002, injecting a high level of uncertainty into the race.

You can follow all the latest results on our live blog HERE.

Mid-afternoon turnout was down 4.4 percentage points from 2017, when Macron upended the French political landscape by knocking out traditional parties on the left and right with an ambitious reformist platform.

He advanced to the run-off against Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader who is again forecast by polls to qualify for the second round this year, and who has seen a sharp jump in opinion polls over the past week.

But turnout at this stage was well above the 58.5 percent of April 21st, 2002, when Marine’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, disproved polls by squeezing past the Socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin to advance to the second round against incumbent president Jacques Chirac.

Chirac went on to win re-election in a crushing defeat of Le Pen, just as Macron beat out Marine Le Pen in the 2017 run-off with 66 percent of the votes to her 34 percent.

Polls suggest a repeat of the Macron-Le Pen contest would be much closer this year.

Some 48.7 million voters are registered for the election, to be followed by the run-off on April 24th.

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Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France’s disabilities minister

France's disabilities minister will not face a new inquiry "as things stand" over a rape allegation that surfaced just after his nomination by President Emmanuel Macron last week, prosecutors have said, citing the anonymity of the alleged victim.

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France's disabilities minister

Damien Abad has faced growing pressure to resign after the news website Mediapart reported the assault claims by two women dating from over a decade ago, which he has denied.

One of the women, identified only by her first name, Margaux, filed a rape complaint in 2017 that was later dismissed by prosecutors.

The other woman, known only as Chloe, told Mediapart that in 2010 she had blacked out after accepting a glass of champagne from Abad at a bar in Paris, and woke up in her underwear in pain with him in a hotel room. She believes she may have been drugged.

She did not file an official complaint, but the Paris prosecutors’ office said it was looking into the case after being informed by the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics, a group formed by members of France’s MeToo movement.

“As things stand, the Paris prosecutors’ office is not following up on the letter” from the observatory, it said, citing “the inability to identify the victim of the alleged acts and therefore the impossibility of proceeding to a hearing.”

In cases of sexual assault against adults, Paris prosecutors can open an inquiry only if an official complaint is made, meaning the victim must give their identity.

Abad has rejected the calls to resign in order to ensure the new government’s “exemplarity,” saying that he is innocent and that his own condition of arthrogryposis, which limits the movement of his joints, means sexual relations can occur only with the help of a partner.

The appointment of Abad as minister for solidarities and people with disabilities in a reshuffle last Friday was seen as a major coup for Macron, as the 42-year-old had defected from the right-wing opposition.

The new prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, said she was unaware of the allegations before Abad’s nomination, but insisted that “If there is new information, if a new complaint is filed, we will draw all the consequences.”

The claims could loom large over parliamentary elections next month, when Macron is hoping to secure a solid majority for his reformist agenda. Abad will be standing for re-election in the Ain department north of Lyon.