French voters will return to the polls Sunday to decide which of the two finalists, independent centrist Emmanuel Macron or far-right leader Marine Le Pen, will become their next president. The runoff pits for the first time in modern French history two candidates who are from neither major political party, each of whom boast very different visions for the country’s future. Though polls predict Macron will beat Le Pen comfortably with 60 percent of the vote, turnout could affect the outcome.
Either way, the winner’s victory will be nothing short of historic.
Emmanuel Macron — En Marche!
The 39-year-old independent is favored to become France’s youngest president. He emerged the victor of the first round with 23.7 percent of the vote, and recent polls project he’ll win 60 percent of the vote in the runoff. A political outsider, Macron was virtually unknown before former Prime Minister Manuel Valls appointed him economy minister in 2014—a post he held for two years before breaking away from President François Hollande’s Socialist government to launch his own political movement, En Marche!, or “On the Move!” Macron’s centrist platform, which he says aims to “reconcile the two Frances that have been growing apart for too long,” advocates business-friendly economic policies that aim to loosen France’s labor laws and its famed 35-hour workweek; defends the European Union and NATO; and opposes immigration quotas, calling instead for strengthening the EU’s external borders and devising a united European policy on immigration. Apart from unsubstantiated rumors about his personal life (his marriage to Brigitte Trogneux, a former teacher at his high school who is 24 years his senior, has prompted speculation about the pair), Macron has largely avoided scandals the likes of which have plagued some of his rivals. But his campaign was hit by a “massive, co-ordinated hacking” less than 48 hours ahead of the vote. The leak didn't appear to release any incriminating information, and French electoral authorities cautioned against disseminating its contents, noting that “such data, which has been fraudulently obtained and in all likelihood may have been mingled with false information, is liable to be classified as a criminal offense.” The hack came one day after French prosecutors opened an investigation into a complaint by Macron that his campaign was being targeted by fake news aiming to influence the French election. It also came minutes ahead of a 48-hour blackout that bans campaigning or commentary that might influence the contest. As a result, the interior ministry declined to comment on news of the hacking. In the first and only head-to-head debate between the two candidates, Macron characterized Le Pen has a candidate who “has prospered for years and years on the back of French people’s anger,” pledging that if elected he would“refuse the spirit of defeatism and hatred which is that of the National Front.”