French presidential vote kicks off amid tight security

Mass abstentions could mar one of the most unpredictable presidential elections in France's recent history

French presidential vote kicks off amid tight security

World Bulletin / News Desk

French voters are heading to the polls Sunday for the first round of one of the most uncertain presidential elections in the country's recent history.

Approximately 45.7 million voters in mainland France and overseas are eligible to vote, but mass abstentions are feared amid security concerns and a polarizing selection of candidates.

A run-off is slated for May 7 between the top two out of the 11 presidential hopefuls.

Voters will be casting their ballots under high security measures after Thursday’s terrorist shooting in the French capital, in which a police officer and the gunman both died.

The Interior Ministry earlier said 50,000 officers will be stationed at the 69,000 polling stations set up across the nation and overseas.

Some local media reported that security authority the DCSP had sent an inside memo warning of a "constant and pregnant" threat of violence during the election.

Voting has already commenced Saturday morning in the French island of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, French Polynesia in the South Pacific and Guadeloupe, French Guiana and Martinique in the Caribbean, as well as in U.S. states and Canada.

French Interior Ministry estimates expat voters at 1.3 million, making them a sizable portion of the entire electorate.

According to a survey released by Elabe on Friday morning, the centrist, independent candidate Emmanuel Macron could lead the first-round voting with 24 percent, closely followed by far-right candidate Marine Le Pen with 21.5 percent.

Conservative candidate Francois Fillon ranks third with 20 percent and far-left Jean-Luc Melenchon fourth with 19.5 percent.

The candidate of the struggling ruling Socialist Party, Benoit Hamon, already seems to be out of the race.

All recent polls point out that this election is too close to call with the four frontrunners representing opposite poles, making it the most unpredictable contest in years.

Almost 30 percent of voters could abstain according to a Cevipof poll of 11,601 people for Le Monde newspaper on Thursday, adding to the uncertainty.

The abstention rate reached a record level at 28 percent in France's 2002 presidential election, when the then National Front leader, Le Pen's father Jean-Marie Le Pen, made it to the run-off before he was beaten by conservative candidate Jacques Chirac.

Security concerns, especially after Thursday's shooting, are raising the possibility of mass abstentions. The French president, prime minister and several candidates have urged the French public not to "give in to fear" and go out to vote.

Polling stations are due to close between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. local time (1800-1900GMT) for some cities, which will push the announcement of preliminary results to around 9 p.m. (2000GMT) local time, slightly later than usual as the close race is expected to complicate and delay the results.

A run-off is slated for May 7 between the top two candidates. France's new president will be formally confirmed by mid-May.

The presidential election will be followed by a two-round legislative election to select the French parliament in June.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 23 Nisan 2017, 09:43