The normal Sunday morning is a lazy affair in the French capital. Streets are quiet bar neighborhoods where the market day is held on Sunday. Early-riser tourists make their way to the city’s attractions to beat the crowds. Most businesses remain closed and the busiest places are still the boulangerie and the church – proof that some traditions refuse to die-out.
Election day is no lazy Sunday however. Roughly 80% of registered voters ordinarily turn out to vote. 2007 saw the figure as high as 84%, even greater in Paris. It is a duty the French take seriously and many are rising early to vote in order to free up the rest of the day.
This year, many voters are still undecided as they arrive at the polling station. As recently as Friday, a third had still not decided for whom to cast their vote. Many have switched back and forth with some 58% of voters having changed their minds at least once since January, according to Cevipof/Ipsos.
With polls tightening in recent weeks, the previously taken for granted scenario of a second-round battle between Marine Le Pen and the Justin Trudeau-style globalist, 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron, is no longer a sure bet.
Establishment-right candidate François Fillon has regained lost ground, despite the financial scandal which exploded his campaign in January.
Far left candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon has benefited from a dip in support for socialist, Benoît Hamon, making such an unlikely eventuality as a second round between nationalist Le Pen and communist Mélanchon a possibility. Whilst unlikely, a dual between the two would be the ultimate rejection of mainstream politics and guarantee a dramatic two weeks of campaigning between now and May 7th.
However Paris – traditionally left – votes today, there is an expectation that this race will be decided in the France beyond the capital and large cities, in the ‘forgotten France’ ravaged by globalization and an economic crisis which has lasted almost a decade.
Added to closed factories and off-shored jobs, there is anger at the mainstream establishment over Islamic terror attacks, the unchallenged delinquency of a criminal class made up of largely foreign origin and the arrival of migrants in every corner of rural France by order of central government.
Whether these and similar sentiments can propel Le Pen to the second round or not is another question. When polls close at 20:00, French time, France and the world will have a better idea.
One thing is for certain, there is a strong feeling across the country – particularly outside of the large cities – that something must change. It can be summed up by the French expression heard everywhere in recent years, ‘le ras le bol’, roughly translated as ‘sick and tired and not going to take it anymore.’
However this sentiment manifests itself today, if at all, is another question. As France’s 47 million registered voters head to the polls, the answer will soon be clear.