France election: polls open as Macron and Le Pen battle for presidency | France

The polls have opened in mainland France for the second round of the presidential election in which voters will choose to give Emmanuel Macron another five years in office or elect Marine Le Pen.

Macron is favorite to win but any second term will be determined by whether he finishes with a convincing victory. Both he and Le Pen need to have convinced the almost 50% of voters who did not choose either of them in the first round ballot two weeks ago.

The level of abstention and the number of people protest voting by casting a blank ballot, as many supporters of “third man” the radical left’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon have promised, could affect the result.

The former prime minister Édouard Philippe, the mayor of Le Havre, was one of the first to vote at his local polling station. Macron will vote in Le Touquet where he and his wife Brigitte have a home. Le Pen will vote at Hénin-Beaumont, at the heart of her stronghold in northern France. Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris and the Socialist party presidential candidate who trailed in the first round, voted in Paris 45 minutes after the polling stations opened. Valérie Pécresse, candidate for the conservative Les Républicains, voted shortly afterwards.

The polling stations close at 7pm in most of mainland France and 8pm in major towns and cities. An estimation of the result based on the count from a number of specific polling stations chosen as representative of France will be announced at 8pm. While it is only an estimation it is usually a reliable indication of who has won unless it is too close to call and within a margin of error.

Because of the time difference, France’s overseas territories began voting on Saturday.

Campaigning officially ended at midnight on Friday when all opinion polls ceased and since when the candidates have been obliged to keep a low profile.

Macron’s program includes a cap on fuel prices, indexing pensions and a progressive rise in the retirement age to 65 years. He also campaigned for a stronger Europe.

Le Pen has promised to lower the retirement age from 62 to 60 for those who began work before the age of 20, dropping VAT on fuel from 20% to 5.5%, and a new law to allow French nationals priority for housing, jobs and benefits as well as the deportation of illegal immigrants.

Macron and Le Pen won places in the second round two weeks ago when he polled just under 9.8m votes – 27.85% of those cast – and she obtained 8.13m votes – 23.15% of those cast. Mélenchon came a close third with 7.7m votes, 420,000 short of Le Pen. The candidates for the mainstream right and left both trailed with Pécresse in fifth place and Hidalgo in 10th place; both polled under 5%, meaning they will not have their campaign expenses funded.

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