What's at stake in the French election

French voters began casting ballots for the presidential election Sunday under heightened security in a tense first-round poll that's seen as a test for the spread of populism around the world.

After months of political shocks, high-profile scandals and fraught campaigning, the outcome of France's presidential election remains clouded in uncertainty, but the potentially momentous consequences of today's first-round vote, for the French, for Europe and for Britain, are clear.

The first round will send two of 11 candidates into a run-off vote in two weeks time to pick a new president for France, a core member of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation alliance, a permanent member of the United Nations Security council, and the world's fifth largest economy.

French overseas territories and French residents in the United States and Canada began voting on Saturday in France's presidential election, a day before the main first-round of a poll that could change the global political landscape.

Thursday's attack, which was claimed by Islamic State, was carried out by a man who got out of a auto that pulled up next to a police van on the Champs Elysees and opened fire on officers inside and outside the vehicle.

Those who spoke to Sky News said the economy, money and jobs were the priorities in deciding on a candidate but acknowledged that security was a worry after the attack in the French capital this week in which a police officer was killed.

Former prime minister Francois Fillon wins the centre-right primaries' second-round and becomes his camp's candidate, beating favourite Alain Juppe, whom opinion polls had seen as France's next president.

President Donald Trump said the attack that killed a police officer in Paris would "probably help" French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen since she is "strongest on borders".

Voters cast ballots at a polling station in central Paris.

Many of those who told Al Jazeera they would not be voting for any candidate said their decision was based on a general distrust of politicians, a feeling shared even by some of those who have decided on a candidate. While a Le Pen win is not the consensus view of the market, some have suggested her odds may be better than people think. Security has played an important part in national debate since Thursday's killing of a policeman by a suspected Islamist in Paris, with some arguing it could increase Le Pen's chances.

The latest OpinionWay daily survey, which was only partly polled after the attack, showed first-round support for Fillon up one point to 21 percent, Le Pen and Macron stable at 22 and 23 percent respectively, while Melenchon was down one point at 19 percent.

Le Pen blamed "radical Islam" for the attack in a follow-up statement Friday, the last day candidates are allowed to campaign before Sunday's vote.

The 48-year-old leader of the anti-immigration National Front (FN) called for France to "immediately" take back control of its borders from the European Union and deport all foreigners on a terror watchlist.

He denied he was "worried about emboldening terrorists by saying an attack can have an impact on a democratic election", AP reported.

"Women understand Marine Le Pen, she's divorced, she has three children, she works - she's a modern woman". Jean Marie Le Pen had earned a reputation as a hardcore far right leader.

Polling companies put the number of those planning not to vote or casting blank ballots at almost 30 percent, with many others, half the electorate according to some estimates, undecided about who to vote for.

The centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron still sits atop most polls, and the conservative Francois Fillon remains within striking distance.

In the wake of the policeman's killing on Thursday, 50,000 police and 7,000 soldiers have been deployed around France to protect voters. "Enough of laxism, enough of naivety", Le Pen said.

  • Leroy Wright