Analysis

Rollercoaster French Election Reaches Moment of Truth: Will It All Come Down to the Weather?

Even the hacking of his campaign's computers doesn't threaten Macron's hefty lead, but Le Pen could scrounge an upset if enough voters stay home

French presidential election candidate for the En Marche ! movement Emmanuel Macron (L) casting his ballot at a polling station in Le Touquet, northern France, and French presidential election candidate for the far-right Front National (FN - National Front) party Marine Le Pen casting her ballot at a polling station in Henin-Beaumont, north-western France, on May 7, 2017, during the second round of the French presidential election
ERIC FEFERBERG JOEL SAGET/AFP

PARIS – In the shadow of the 'MacronLeaks' scandal and suspicions of interference by a foreign power in France's democratic process, some 47 million French voters are expected to choose between two candidates who are near polar opposites in their worldviews.

France votes today: Get all latest updates

Their actions in the voting booth on Sunday will determine the future not only of France but of the European Union as a whole. Their decision will also determine, for the entire world, whether victory in democratic elections will, from now on, be accomplished through a well-planned cyberattack accompanied by a no-holds-barred smear campaign against which there is no defense.

If the French elect the leader of the extreme right, Marine Le Pen, the world's currency markets will roil as early as Monday morning. The first five steps Le Pen has promised to take if elected president are the immediate closure of the country's borders and the deportation of unauthorized immigrants; the immediate restoration of the French franc as a national currency and the publication of a timetable for prohibiting the use of the euro; the elimination of legal immigration and the suspension of all valid work visas; lowering the retirement age to 60 for both sexes and withdrawing France from the border- and passport-free Schengen zone.

If the French choose the independent centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, members of the country's trade unions are expected to take to the streets in protest. Macron's first five measures as president, according to his own pledge, will be to loosen labor laws, decrease corporate taxes, repeal the shortened, 35-hour work week in all fields, raise personal income tax for the higher brackets and stiffen the eligibility requirements for unemployment benefits.

The two candidates are less liked by the public than candidates who failed in the party primaries and in the first round of elections two weeks ago, and the level of trust that the French place in both of them together is lower than usual for a president at the beginning of term.

But at the end of the most fascinating and turbulent election that France has ever known, these are the two who survived all the tests, takedowns and reports, and they've won the dubious honor of confronting one another both ideologically and personally in a violent and merciless duel that will only end tonight when the polling stations close.

The latest polls predict a clear victory for Macron – with 62 percent of the vote to Le Pen's 38 percent – after the gap in his favor increased significantly following the televised debate between the two. If former President Francois Mitterrand was correct in claiming that French politics aren’t rational but dynamic, then the dynamics at the final stretch are all Macron's.

Le Pen was received with a shower of eggs, for the first time in the campaign, during a routine visit to Brittany, and the following day couldn’t enter the royal cathedral in Reims where she planned on delivering her closing speech due to a human barrier of hundreds of determined demonstrators.       

But the event that symbolizes Le Pen's campaign took place that same night, four minutes before midnight, when official campaigning closed. Then, the election campaign suffered another shock, when Macron filed a complaint over a massive hacking attack that targeted his campaign and leaked tens of thousands of emails, documents and files.

The Macron campaign seemed optimistic regarding the damage the leaks could cause to the expected victory. On Saturday night, his team began erecting the stage expected to host his victory celebrations outside the Louvre museum. Le Pen asked to move up the beginning of her planned celebrations, slated for Paris suburb of Vincennes.

According to polls, the dynamics of recent days played in Macron's favor, especially in wake of their televised debate, which led to a shift among undecided voters to swallow their dislike of the young centrist candidate to block Le Pen's way to the lysée.

Millions of those who voted for Jean-Luc Melenchon, the leader of the radical left, who since the first round have vowed to abstain from the vote and not decide between a "banker and a fascist," have changed their minds after listening to two-and-a-half hours of a banker and a fascist's statements: Some 60 percent said they would vote for Macron, while only 32 percent said they would abstain. Some 8 percent actually said they would vote for Le Pen.

But the pollsters warn that what voters say and what voters do are two different things. As they have warned in the past week, the key to Le Pen's possible victory is not Melenchon voters, but low voter turnout. According to some assessments, if abstention levels cross 30 percent, and at least 90 percent of those who said they would vote for Le Pen actually do so, while only 70 percent of those who said they would vote Macron do so, Le Pen can carry the vote.

Turnout in the second round of French presidential elections are historically high, roughly 80 percent. But this election falls on a long weekend due to Victory Day and bad weather is further expected with heavy rains forecast over Macron strongholds (Paris and Western France) and glorious sunshine over areas considered favorable to Le Pen (the Alps and the Riviera)

An additional complication is the rising popularity of the "blanc" vote – the empty ballot. These votes, like disqualified votes, are not counted in the final tally but are factored into the voter turnout, inflating the stats. If turnout seems high during election day, many Macron voters might decide to stay home, misreading the turnout and missing the fact that it conceals a low turnout that actually helps Le Pen.

In the first round, 2.6 percent of the voters dragged themselves out of their homes and braved the long lines only to voice their discontent with a white ballot; during the second round, this number is only expected to grow.