Macron vs Le Pen during the French presidential election runoff

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PARIS — From bucolic villages to humming cities, French voters were choosing Sunday between two radically different sets of plans for the future of France, with President Emmanuel Macron offering continuity if he is reelected for a second term and his far-right challenger Marine Le Pen pledging seismic change for the country and its outlook on the world amid the fallout of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

It was not clear how or if voters who voted against either of the candidates in round 1 of the election two week ago, will vote this time. The second round features a winner takes all runoff between two familiar rivals, who also met in 2017. Turnout was 63%, down two points from the previous year.

Many voters found the rematch less compelling in 2017 than 2017, when Macron was an unknown candidate, having never held office before. Leftist voters – unable to identify with either the centrist president or Le Pen’s fiercely nationalist platform – were agonizing with the choice on Sunday. Many voted for Macron, while others voted reluctantly.

“It was the least worst choice,” said Stephanie David, a transport logistics worker who backed a communist candidate in round one.

Jean-Pierre Roux, a retired man, couldn’t make the right choice. Having also voted communist in round one, he dropped an empty envelope into the ballot box on Sunday, repelled both by Le Pen’s politics and the persona of Macron.

“I am not against his ideas but I cannot stand the person,” Roux said.

Seeking to become France’s first president in 20 years to win reelection, Macron, 44, went into the vote with a sizeable lead in polls but unable to guarantee victory from a fractured, anxious and tired electorate. The war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic battered Macron’s first term, as did months of violent protests against his economic policies.

The upheavals created fertile ground for Le Pen, who is making her third attempt to become France’s first woman president. Her campaigning on cost-of-living issues was a success. She won support from blue-collar voters in disaffected rural areas and former industrial cities.

Even if Le Pen, 53 years old, does not reach the presidential Elysee Palace in Paris, a good score Sunday would be a win for far-right. Macron won easily over Le Pen in 2017, 66% to 34%. However, this time the results are expected to be closer.

It was so close that others felt compelled not to let her ascend.

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