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2022 FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

Voting starts as Macron seeks new term in tight French election

France voted on Sunday in the first round of a presidential election projected to produce a run-off rematch between incumbent Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen that will be far tighter than their duel five years ago. 

Voting starts as Macron seeks new term in tight French election
A French national living in India walks to cast her vote in the first round of the country's presidential elections at the French embassy in New Delhi on April 10, 2022. (Photo by Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP)

Polls opened in mainland France at 0600 GMT after an unusual campaign overshadowed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that analysts warned could lead to unpredictable outcomes with turnout a major factor. 

French overseas territories already voted Saturday to take account of the time difference, starting with the tiny island of Saint Pierre and Miquelon off the coast of Canada and then territories in the Caribbean followed by French Pacific islands.  

“It’s important to vote, that’s when you choose between the good and the bad. After all, the president will run your life,” said Annette Tehariki, a 57-year-old voting in French Polynesia. 

Polls predict that Macron will lead Le Pen by a handful of percentage points in round one, with the top two going through to a second round vote on April 24. 

READ MORE: Join our live blog for all the results on Sunday

Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon is snapping at their heels in third place and still fancies his chances of reaching the second round at the expense of Le Pen or even — in what would be an extraordinary upset — President Macron himself. 

Although her opponents accuse her of being an extremist bent on dividing society, Le Pen has with some success during the campaign sought to show a more moderate image and concern with voters’ daily worries such as rising prices. 

Macron by contrast has campaigned relatively little, by his own admission entering the election campaign later than he would have wished due to the war in Ukraine. 

French television channels will broadcast projections of the final results, which are generally highly accurate, as soon as polls close at 1800 GMT Sunday. 

‘Uncertainty’

If Macron and Le Pen as forecast reach the second round, analysts predict that their clash will be far tighter than in 2017 when the current president thrashed his rival with 66 percent of the vote. 

“There is an uncertainty,” said French political scientist Pascal Perrineau, pointing to unprecedentedly high numbers of voters who were still undecided or who changed their minds during the campaign as well as absentee voters. 

Analysts fear that the 2002 record of the number of French voters boycotting a first round of 28.4 percent risks being beaten, with the 2017 absentee rate of 22.2 percent almost sure to be exceeded. 

Some 48.7 million voters are registered across France to vote in this election. 

The stakes of the election are high for Macron, who came to power aged 39 as France’s youngest president with a pledge to shake up the country. 

He would be the first French president since Jacques Chirac in 2002 to win a second term and thus cement a place in the country’s history.  

If he wins, he would have a five-year mandate to impose his vision of reform which would include a crack at raising the pension age in defiance of union anger. 

He would also seek to consolidate his position as the undisputed number one in Europe after the departure of German chancellor Angela Merkel. 

A Le Pen victory would however be seen as a triumph for right-wing populism and send shockwaves across Europe and markets. 

For his European supporters, Macron is a centrist bulwark against populism, especially after election victories last weekend by the right-wingers Hungarian premier Viktor Orban and Serbian leader Aleksandar Vucic, who both have cordial ties with Putin. 

Republican front?

The candidates of France’s traditional parties, the right-wing Republicans and the Socialists on the left, are facing a debacle on election night, continuing a shake-up of French politics that began when Macron took power. 

Greens candidate Yannick Jadot, the Republicans’ Valerie Pecresse and the flagging Socialist nominee Anne Hidalgo appear certain to be ejected in the first round. 

Far-right former TV pundit Eric Zemmour made a stunning entry into the campaign last year but has since lost ground, and analysts say he has actually aided Le Pen by making her appear more moderate. 

Much attention is already turning to the second round and the question of who will win the backing of the defeated first-round hopefuls. 

Analysts question whether Macron would enjoy the same support from a broad anti-far right “Republican front” coalition that helped him win in 2017, and that had already allowed Jacques Chirac to demolish Marine Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie in 2002. 

“The Republican front hasn’t been what it used to be for a while,” the director of the Jean-Jaures Foundation, Gilles Finchelstein, told AFP. 

READ MORE: Join our live blog for all the results on Sunday

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2022 FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

France’s Macron vows new start at second term inauguration

French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday vowed a new start to face immense challenges in foreign and domestic policy, as he was inaugurated for a second term after his election victory over the far right.

France's Macron vows new start at second term inauguration

In a ceremony at the Elysee Palace, Macron was confirmed by Constitutional Council chief Laurent Fabius as the winner of April’s presidential election and then signed the formal re-investiture document.

Attended by 450 people, including his wife Brigitte and his only surviving predecessors Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, the ceremony (which can be watched below) was relatively modest but marked the first time a French leader is serving a second term in 20 years.

Macron faces a daunting agenda of implementing the reforms he vowed when he came to power as France’s youngest-ever president in 2017, as well as dealing with the Russian assault against Ukraine.

“Rarely has our world and our country been confronted with such a combination of challenges,” he said, referring to the Russian invasion, the pandemic and the ecological emergency.

He vowed to be a “new president” for a “new mandate” and create a “stronger France”.

“Every day of the mandate that lies ahead I will have just one compass point. And that is to serve.”

‘Worn-out rites’
He also suggested a more inclusive and understanding style of ruling after his first term saw critics complain the former investment banker had abrasive and arrogant methods.

He vowed a “new method” to govern, far from the “worn-out rites and choreography” of the past.

In a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages, 21 cannon shots were fired from the Invalides military memorial complex to celebrate the inauguration.

With no drive down the Avenue des Champs-Elysees or long red carpet, the ceremony resembled the re-inaugurations of Francois Mitterrand in 1988 and Jacques Chirac in 2002, the last French president to win a second term.

Despite the ceremony, Macron’s second term will only start officially when the first one expires at midnight on May 13.

He is set to keep playing a leading role in efforts to stop Russia’s war against Ukraine, while he carries an immense burden of expectation as a leader on the European stage with Germany still finding its footing in the post-Angela Merkel era.

Macron vowed to “act to avoid any escalation following the Russian aggression in Ukraine, to help democracy and courage to prevail, to build a new European peace and a new autonomy on our continent.”

On the domestic front, Macron must deal with the crisis over the rising cost of living and also brace for possible protests when he finally tackles his cherished pension reform, raising France’s retirement age.

Constitutional Council president Laurent Fabius (C) proclaims the official results of the 2022 presidential election in France at the Elysee presidential palace

Constitutional Council president Laurent Fabius (C) proclaims the official results of the 2022 presidential election in France at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris. Photo: Gonzalo Fuentes/Pool/AFP

He reaffirmed a vow for full employment in France and vowed to fight against inequality by reforming the health and school systems as well as against “daily insecurities and terrorism that is still there”.

Attending the ceremony were the parents of teacher Samuel Paty who was beheaded by an Islamist extremist in 2020. His mother was moved to tears when the president embraced them.

 ‘Having difficulty’

Macron won the second round of presidential polls on April 24 with a score of 58.55 percent against far-right rival Marine Le Pen.

The ceremony comes at a time of political flux in the wake of Macron’s election victory, as France gears up for legislative polls that swiftly follow in June.

READ ALSO: Why France’s parliamentary elections are important

Macron is expected to name a new premier in place of incumbent Jean Castex to lead a revamped government into the elections, but not until his second term officially kicks off.

He has mooted naming a female politician with a focus on social responsibility — although reports have indicated that overtures to leftist figures, such as former official Veronique Bedague and Socialist parliamentary
group chief Valerie Rabault, have been rebuffed.

 “Here they are obviously having difficulty finding the right person,” French political historian Jean Garrigues told AFP.

President Emmanuel Macron reviews the troops in the gardens of the Elysee palace

President Emmanuel Macron reviews the troops in the gardens of the Elysee presidential palace after his investiture ceremony. Photo: Gonzalo Fuentes/Pool/AFP

Meanwhile, the Socialist Party along with the Greens and Communists, is forming an unprecedented alliance for the parliamentary elections with the hard left France Unbowed (LFI) party of Jean-Luc Melenchon.

He was by far the best performing left-wing candidate in the first round of presidential elections and is spearheading efforts to mount a convincing challenge to Macron.

Pro-Macron factions have regrouped under the banner of Ensemble (Together) while his own Republic on the Move party, which has struggled to create a grass-roots base, is renaming itself Renaissance.

Garrigues said the problems of the ruling party were “linked by nature to his (Macron’s) political positioning which is both on the right and the left”.

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