Paris – French voters went to the polls for the second round of the country’s presidential election on Sunday, faced with a stark choice between pro-EU liberal Emmanuel Macron and eurosceptic far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Polling stations opened at 8 am (0600 GMT) and were due to close at 8 pm in major cities and 7 pm elsewhere.
Voters in some French overseas territories in the Americas and the Pacific already cast their ballots on Saturday.
The final pre-election opinion polls gave Macron a clear 23-26-point lead over Le Pen.
The former economy minister, 39, got a boost in the last days of the campaign from his assured performance in an insult-laden televised debate on Wednesday, with Le Pen appearing shaky on her facts.
It was unclear whether Friday’s “massive and coordinated” hacking attack on Macron’s campaign, in which emails and documents were leaked online, would affect the vote’s outcome.
Macron’s team said the documents had been obtained several weeks ago when the emails of officials of his En Marche! (Forward) party were hacked, and that they had been leaked in an attempt to damage his campaign.
They had been mixed up with fake documents in order “to sow doubt and disinformation,” the campaign said, adding that it was an attempt “to destabilize the French presidential election,” similar to the hacking that occurred on Democratic Party organizations in the US last year.
Macron, a strong pro-European, has called for liberalizing economic reforms accompanied by investment in training, and hopes to build a new centrist political majority.
Le Pen, 48, has promised to replace the euro with parallel national and European currencies, restructure the EU as an alliance of sovereign nations or pull out altogether, protect workers’ rights and halt immigration.
Soon after the last stations close, local media are expected to publish projections of the final result based on partial voting figures released by the Interior Ministry.
The winning candidate will formally take over from outgoing President Francois Hollande on or before May 14.
Some 45.7 million people are registered to vote in France, with another 1.3 million French citizens living abroad eligible to vote in French embassies, according to the Interior Ministry.