PARIS (AP) — French voters began casting ballots for the presidential election Sunday in a tense first-round poll that’s seen as a test for the spread of populism around the world.
Over 60,000 polling stations opened at 0600 GMT for voters who will choose between 11 candidates in the most unpredictable election in generations.
Opinion polls point to a tight race among the four top contenders vying to get into the May 7 presidential runoff that will decide who becomes France’s next head of state.
Polls suggest far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, an independent centrist and former economy minister, were in the lead. But conservative Francois Fillon, a former prime minister, appeared to be closing the gap, as was far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon.
France’s 10 percent unemployment, its lackluster economy and security issues topped concerns for the 47 million eligible voters.
If Le Pen or Melenchon win a spot in the runoff, it will be seen as a victory for the rising wave of populism reflected by the votes for Donald Trump and Brexit — the British departure from the European Union.
Macron and Fillon are committed to European unity and would reform labor rules.
Political campaigning was banned from midnight Friday until all the polls close at 1800 GMT Sunday.
Early voting began Saturday in France’s overseas territories.
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