France prepares to vote in presidential election

President Emmanuel Macron faces far-right challenger Marine Le Pen in Sunday's race

French President Emmanuel Macron will face Marine Le Pen in Sunday's presidential election. AP

Polling stations across France are set to open on Sunday as President Emmanuel Macron, 44, faces far-right challenger Marine Le Pen, 53, in an election battle.

Preparations were under way on Saturday to set up polling stations as voters waited to elect the nation's next president.

Sunday's vote is a rematch of the 2017 presidential election run-off, as incumbent centrist Mr Macron faces Ms Le Pen, after a first-round vote earlier this month.

Polls suggest Mr Macron is leading against Ms Le Pen, but it remains to be seen how many of France's 48.7 million eligible voters will go to the ballot box amid concerns about both candidates.

Polling stations across mainland France will open their doors to voters at 8am local time on Sunday.

Most polling stations will close at 7pm except in some big cities such as Paris, Marseille, Lyon and Bordeaux, which will remain open until 8pm.

A victory in Sunday's run-off vote would make Mr Macron the first French president in 20 years to win a second term.

All opinion polls in recent days have pointed towards a victory for the pro-European centrist — yet the margin over his nationalist rival appears uncertain, varying from 6 to 15 percentage points, depending on the poll.

Leader of French far-right party RN party and candidate for the presidential election Marine Le Pen, second right, speaks during a press conference in Metz, eastern France. AFP

Polls also forecast possibly a record-high number of people who will either vote blank or stay at home and not vote at all in this second and final round.

The April 10 first-round vote eliminated 10 other candidates.

Who becomes France's next leader will largely depend on what people who backed those losing candidates do on Sunday.

Mr Macron has urged voters to get out and vote on Sunday.

"Think about what British citizens were saying a few hours before Brexit or [people] in the United States before Trump's election happened: ‘I’m not going, what’s the point?’ I can tell you that they regretted it the next day,” Mr Macron said this week on France 5 television.

“So if you want to avoid the unthinkable ... choose for yourself,” he urged hesitant French voters.

Mr Macron has vowed to change the French economy to make it more independent while protecting social benefits. He said he will also keep pushing for a more powerful Europe.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who is seeking re-election, shakes hands with supporters on the last day of campaigning, in Figeac, southern France. AFP

His first term was rocked by the yellow vest protests against social injustice, the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

Ms Le Pen's campaign has sought to appeal to voters struggling with surging food and energy prices amid the fallout of Russia's war in Ukraine.

The candidate said bringing down the cost of living would be a top priority if she was elected as France's first woman president.

She has also pledged to introduce a ban on the wearing of the hijab in public if she wins.

Sunday's winner will have a very short time to savour the victory, however, before they face the challenge of the nation's legislative election in June which will decide who controls a majority of seats in France's National Assembly.

Updated: April 24, 2022, 3:10 AM