Photographer: Joel Saget/AFP via Getty Images

French Prepare to Vote as Cyber Attack on Macron Probed

  • Stormy campaign leaves nation divided, electoral ‘neurosis’
  • Macron credited with double-digit lead in last polls Friday

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 Associated Press reported that France’s cyber security agency is investigating, according to a government official who called it a “very serious” breach. The country’s electoral control commission, in a statement, said there was a “significant amount of data” leaked, and requested that websites, social media and news organizations refrain from disseminating details of it in accordance with French election law. Rallies, interviews and opinion polls are all legally banned from midnight Friday, to give voters time to think about their choice.

Because of those restrictions, it wasn’t clear how many voters would know about the attack or contents of the materials prior to casting ballots. 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.

Macron, 39, and Le Pen, 48, knocked out both the Socialist Party and the center-right Republicans in the April 23 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 percent 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 U.K. 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 percent, roughly double the levels in the U.K. 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 8 a.m. local time, and results will be released starting at 8 p.m.

— With assistance by Helene Fouquet, and Gregory Viscusi

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