French voters choose on Sunday whether a pro-European Union centrist or a eurosceptic, anti-immigration far-rightist will lead them for the next five years, with early figures indicating turnout could be low, but above most recent forecasts.
Opinion polls predict that after 8 p.m. Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old ex-economy minister who wants to bridge the left-right divide, will be named as president, seeing off the challenge from National Front leader Marine Le Pen.
A Macron victory would further stem the tide of nativist, anti-globalisation voting outcomes like those that will see Britain quit the EU and which made Donald Trump U.S. president.
Macron, who wants to deregulate the economy and deepen EU integration, is set to win the head-to-head with between 61.5 and 63 percent of the vote, according to the last opinion polls on Friday.
Should an upset occur and Le Pen win, the very future of the EU could be on the line given her desire to close borders, dump the euro currency, and tear up trade treaties.
Even in defeat, the 48 year-old's vote is likely to be about twice what her party scored the last time it reached the presidential second round in 2002, demonstrating the scale of voter disaffection with mainstream politics in France.
By midday, both candidates had voted, he in Le Touquet on the north coast, and she in the northern town of Henin-Beaumont.
Midday turnout figures from the Interior Ministry said 28.23 percent of voters had turned out so far, the lowest at this stage of the day since the 2002 presidential poll, when it was 26.19 percent. Turnouts at midday in 2012 and 2007 were 30.66 percent and 34.11 percent respectively.
A poll on Friday had predicted a final turnout of 75 percent this time. The eventual turnouts in 2002, 2007 and 2012 were all above 80 percent.