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Turnout High in French Runoff Election - 2002-05-05

French voters are apparently turning out in high numbers as they vote for president. Analysts expect incumbent President Jacques Chirac to defeat far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen. Mr. Le Pen beat socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin two weeks ago in an election marked by low turnout. What counts in Sunday's election is the size of the Chirac win.

According to official figures, voter turnout is as much as 10 percent higher than two weeks ago, indicting that French voters have taken notice of appeals to repudiate Jean-Marie Le Pen's far-right policies.

For many supporters of the left this is a difficult election. They regard President Chirac, a right-of-center Gaullist, as an unscrupulous political opportunist. While thousands of them have marched in the streets to denounce Mr. Le Pen, they have been reluctant to vote for Mr. Chirac. Some have appeared at polling stations wearing clothespins on their noses and rubber gloves to show their disdain.

Election officials have discouraged this kind of protest, although in one leftist-controlled town the mayor set up a 'decontamination booth' so people could cleanse themselves after voting for the incumbent president.

The polls indicate Mr. Chirac could win as much as 80 percent of the vote. But that would still give Mr. Le Pen his best showing ever in a national election. Such a result would do little to erase what many people here regard as the shame of having one voter in five support an extremist who, among other things, wants to keep immigrants out of France. Mr. Le Pen also wants to take France out of the European Union.