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'France decides': Everything you need to know about this weekend's presidential election

Macron or Le Pen? The French people will decide what path their future will take tomorrow.

Image: Lefevre Sylvain/ABACA/PA Images

THIS WEEKEND, THE people of France will go to the polls faced with a stark choice.

They have the option of choosing two very different candidates when the votes are cast tomorrow, with plans for the future of France that are poles apart.

Centrist Emmanuel Macron is campaigning with a pro-European, pro-free market, liberal stance while far-right candidate Marine Le Pen has run an overtly anti-EU, anti-globalisation and anti-immigration campaign.

The pair are outside the traditional main parties and, with a lot of stake, France is set for a huge decision that will affect not only its own future, but the future of Europe and beyond.

So what will happen this weekend, and who’s the more likely to win?

Here’s what you need to know.

The candidates

France Election Source: Christophe Ena/AP Photo

Emmanuel Macron is a former banker who is bidding to become France’s youngest ever president.

The 39-year-old has had a meteoric rise in politics. He was a presidential advisor in 2012, the economy minister under Francois Hollande’s socialist government from 2014 to 2016 and has now become the frontrunner for the presidency.

His top spot in the first round triggered rejoicing among members of his year-old “En Marche” movement, which he has positioned as “neither of the left nor the right”.

His policies are a mix of pro-business reforms, measures to increase take-home pay for workers, the integration of minorities and the stabilisation of the EU.

He has repeatedly tried to portray Le Pen as an extremist.

He recently said: “I will fight up until the very last second not only against her programme but also her idea of what constitutes democracy and the French Republic.”

France Election Source: Francois Mori AP/PA Images

Opposing him is Marine Le Pen, a far-right firebrand who champions nationalism and a “France-first” approach.

She has promised to hold a referendum with the aim of removing France from the EU, close the country’s borders to immigrants and bring back the Franc as the national currency.

Despite her anti-immigrant stance however, she previously worked as a State-appointed lawyer defending illegal immigrants facing deportation.

Unlike the relative newcomer Macron, Le Pen has a long family history in politics.

In the last presidential election in 2012, she finished third with just under 18 percent. She has tried to portray the 2017 contest as “David against Goliath”.

She has worked assiduously to try to rid the party of its more extreme edge – and kicked her father Jean-Marie Le Pen out of it after he repeatedly described Nazi gas chambers as a “detail of history”.

Over the past six years, Le Pen’s rebranded “party of patriots” has been propelled by the anti-globalisation, anti-establishment fury that drove Britain’s vote to leave the EU and Donald Trump’s election in the United States.

She has dismissed her younger rival on numerous occasions, telling a recent rally in Nice: “The country Mr Macron wants is no longer France, it’s a space, a wasteland, a trading room where there are only consumers and producers.”

What the polls are saying

If we trust the polls (more on that later), Emmanuel Macron will easily win the election.

He has led consistently in the polls, with his lead at the start of this week as high as 20 points.

Macron defeated Le Pen in the first round. He won 23.9% of the vote, while Le Pen earned 21.4%.

By all current polling data, there will be only be one winner.

French presidential elections Source: Liewig Christian/ABACA/PA Images

But should we trust the polls?

In recent times, the pollsters got a lot of big calls in western politics wrong.

If they had been right, Hillary Clinton would be in the White House, David Cameron would most likely be leading a coalition government in the UK, Scotland would no longer be in the Union and Brexit would not have happened.

Those polls were incredibly tight, however, especially towards the closing dates before each vote.

Pollsters in France, however, have a long record of getting the tough calls right.

They correctly predicted the results of the first round of this presidential election, to within a very small margin of error.

The victory of Francois Hollande in 2012 was also correctly flagged in advance by the polls.

There is precedence, however, for polls in France to misjudge a Le Pen.

When Marine’s father Jean-Marie made it to the second round of the 2002 presidential election, it caught the pollsters by surprise.

Furthermore, the US polls misjudged the groundswell of support behind Trump and something similar cannot be ruled out in France with Le Pen running on a similar, if perhaps more extreme, ticket.

Macron may be the clear favourite, but that doesn’t mean he’s a shoe in just yet.

When will we know who won?

The electorate heads to the polls tomorrow.

There is a media blackout on coverage of the election in France until Sunday evening, so we’ve heard the last from Macron and Le Pen for now.

The polls will close at either 7pm or 8pm local time, depending on the part of France you’re in.

The pollsters publish their forecasts, based on exit polling, shortly after so we should have a good idea who won the election by around 8pm Irish time.

Unless it is very close, a winner should be declared later tomorrow evening.

For the first time since the second world war, both of the traditional left and right-wing ruling parties were ejected in the first round.

The traditional paradigm has shifted and whomever is chosen will follow a very distinct path, that will have far-reaching effects.

France is about to decide on its future, and the whole world is watching.

With reporting from AFP.

Read: Marine Le Pen plagiarised one of her rivals in a campaign speech last night

Read: ‘If Le Pen wins, you’ll be buying bread with francs this time next year’

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About the author:

Sean Murray

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