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France votes in cliffhanger presidential election

STORY: Voting began on Sunday (April 10) for the first round of France’s presidential election, with far-right candidate Marine Le Pen posing an unexpected threat to President Emmanuel Macron’s re-election hopes.Opinion polls published before a campaign blackout on Friday still see Macron leading the first round and winning a runoff against Le Pen in the second round on April 24.But those same polls said it would be tight, with some even seeing a Le Pen victory within the margin of error.Macron and Le Pen agree the outcome is wide open.Until just weeks ago opinion polls pointed to an easy win for Macron.But his late entry into the campaign and his focus on an unpopular plan to increase the retirement age, have dented his ratings, along with a steep rise in inflation.Macron was all smiles as he cast his vote in the seaside town of Le Touquet.In contrast to Macron, anti-immigration, eurosceptic Le Pen, has had a boost in ratings, thanks to a months-long focus on cost of living issues and a big drop in support for her far-right rival, Eric Zemmour.She said she was feeling positive after she cast her vote.”I feel good, I feel at peace since the start of this campaign. This is the end of long months of campaigning.”Assuming that Macron and Le Pen go through to the runoff, the president faces a problem: pollsters have forecast a record number of voters abstaining.Macron will need to persuade them to change their minds and vote for him in the second round.Sunday’s vote will show who the unusually high number of late undecided voters will pick, and whether Le Pen can exceed opinion poll predictions and come out top in the first round.

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