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French voters prepare to vote after Emmanuel Macron reports cyber attack

LiveMint logoLiveMint 06-05-2017 Mark Deen

Paris: French voters are getting ready to vote Sunday in the final round of the country’s presidential election after a last-minute twist saw front-runner Emmanuel Macron’s campaign fall victim to a hacking attack.

Just minutes before a legally mandated blackout on campaigning fell at midnight Friday, Macron’s team said in a statement that it was the victim of a “massive” cyber attack in which hackers published a mix of fake documents and real papers stolen from staff’s personal and professional email accounts.

The country’s electoral control commission requested media to refrain from disseminating details of the leaked material. News of the hacking complaint was picked up by print media including Le Monde newspaper and Agence France-Presse and debated on social media, though broadcasters remained largely silent on the matter Saturday.

After a stormy campaign marked by scandal, virulence and terrorism, voters face a choice Sunday between centrist pro-European Union Macron and his far-right anti-euro rival, Marine Le Pen. Rallies, interviews and opinion polls are all legally banned from midnight Friday, to give voters time to think about their choice.

Macron, 39, and Le Pen, 48, knocked out both the Socialist Party and the centre-right Republicans in the 23 April first round—defeating establishment parties that had governed France since Charles de Gaulle ushered in the Fifth Republic in 1958. Whoever wins, the first round of voting revealed a nation deeply divided, with about 45% of votes being cast for candidates wanting to remake the nation’s ties with the EU, risking financial chaos.

“There is sort of electoral neurosis,” said Dominique Reynie, a politics professor at the Sciences Po institute Paris. “Many of those who go to vote in the final round will find themselves forced to back someone who they normally wouldn’t support.”

Macron was well ahead in the polls at the end of Friday. If he wins, French voters will have broken with populist momentum that put the UK on track to leave the European Union and carried Donald Trump to the White House.

Yet Le Pen posted her party’s biggest-ever vote in the first ballot, highlighting dissatisfaction by conquering the depressed towns of industrial decline in the north and east, and the conservative heartlands of the south. France’s unemployment rate remains stuck at 10%, roughly double the levels in the UK and Germany—a major challenge to the next president.

“To succeed in terms of jobs is of the essence if we want to respond to this anger,” former European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet told Bloomberg Television Friday.

Voter anger, however, was not what dominated the final hours before campaigning stopped. As Macron’s team said Friday that fake information had been mixed into a trove, Le Pen aide Florian Philippot suggested that the media had avoided scrutinizing Macron thoroughly.

“Will the #Macronleaks uncover things that investigative journalism has deliberately killed?” Philippot said in a tweet just before the blackout began. “Frightening democratic shipwreck.”

Voting in the runoff starts in mainland France Sunday at 8am local time, and results will be released starting at 8pm. Bloomberg

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