Voting began in France today in what will be the first round in a hard fought presidential election that many have come to see as crucial to the future of Europe. Nearly 47 million people will vote to decide whether to back pro-EU centrist Emmanuel Macron, conservative veteran François Fillon, far-left eurosceptic Jean-Luc Mélenchon, or Marine Le Pen a far-right leader. In France elections are held in two separate votes. In the first, all candidates who are eligible are pitted against each other where the top two candidates advance to the second round of voting. Two weeks after the first round of voting, the top two candidates then go head to head while failed candidates traditionally take sides attempting to influence their supporters votes.
Marine Le Pen, who if elected would be France’s first woman president, has dominated international news in the months leading up to the election with her outspoken support for policy which would shit down borders and ditch the euro. Le Pen has told supporters throughout her campaign “the EU will die,” leading to comparisons to Trump who ran on similar policy promises. Le Pen wants to return France’s currency back to the Franc, re-denominate the country’s debt stock and tax imports.
The outcome of the election is being apprehensively watched by many around the world as a sign of whether the populist tide, that allowed the Brexit vote and Donald Trumps election, is still growing or starting to fade. Concerns that Le Pen or her rival Mélenchon, both critics of the European Union, could do well in Sunday’s vote has made some officials at the IMF and World Bank nervous as proposed policy by the two candidates would have an impact on trade policy.
“There was a clear recognition in the room that we have probably moved from high financial and economic risks to a more geopolitical risk,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde stated. Lagarde, who is a former French finance minister, has warned that a Le Pen presidency could lead to political and economic upheaval. The IMF has argued that protectionism policies restrict trade and could potentially choke off improving global growth.
Emmanuel Macron, a centrist ex-banker who set up his party just a year ago, is currently leading in some polls. Macron has never stood for election before his presidential bid, but has previously worked as an economic adviser to President Hollande before taking up the post of economy minister in 2014. Macron is seen as a business friendly candidate who wants to beef up the euro zone.
Candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon looks to radically overhaul the European Union, renegotiating EU treaties and hold a referendum on whether to follow Britains lead in leaving the bloc.
For France, this years election could become even more unique should Macron and Le Pen win the top two qualifying positions on Sunday; as it would fail to feature neither of the mainstream parties that gave governed France for decades. “It wouldn’t be the classic left vs right divide but two views of the world clashing. Macron bills himself as the progressive versus conservatives, Le Pen as the patriot versus the globalist,” Ifop pollster Jerome Forquet said. “It is no secret that we will not be cheering madly should Sunday’s result produce a second round between Le Pen and Melenchon,” German Fianance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said.
For months, candidates throughout France have been the victim of ‘fake-news’ similar to that which is argued to have effected the US election. Polls in France have shown some 20-30 percent of people are not sure whether or not they will even show up to vote, and 30 percent of people who do plan to vote are still unsure of who they will vote for.
After the first round of voting is finished, the top two candidates will face off in two weeks in the second and final round of voting which will decide the president.
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