French go to the polls after hacking attack and civil unrest

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Sunday the French people are going to the polls for a second and final time to decide on who will next occupy the office of the presidency. The first round occurred on April 23, and since then the country has seen street fighting, as well as an anonymous accusation and major leak of data against the campaign of Emmanuel Macron.

The Candidates and the First Round

The first round narrowed the field to Macron, a pro-EU, pro-business and relatively pro-immigration candidate, and Marine Le Pen, a right wing candidate calling for the reversal of France’s EU membership who takes a far harder line on immigration.

Both candidates have been critical of the French bureaucracy and regulations. Le Pen has accused her opponent of favoring big business, and claims that she will focus on the deregulation of small businesses.

French unemployment rate (Left), and election results of the first round of voting (Right). These maps show how Le Pen’s anti-establishment message is resonating with voters who are worse off economically.

Analysts predicted that Macron would easily defeat Le Pen, but Le Pen has gained in the polls since the first round. She is still behind by double digits in most polls.

Unrest

Le Pen is facing support for Macron in major urban areas, and Paris saw violent demonstrations during the May Day celebrations last week.

The protesters came out for a variety of issues — against racism, capitalism, police brutality, Le Pen for her far right views, and even Macron for perceived excessive centrism. The protesters included, but were not limited to, immigrant rights groups, communists, and anti-fascists known as the Antifa, a movement that has emerged in recent months in reaction to the rise of right-wing populists in assorted countries.

The communists in France saw their candidate knocked out of the race in the first round, receiving 19.6% of the vote and coming in fourth place.

Anti-fascists demonstrate in western France following the first round of the Presidential election (AFP/ JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARDJEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD)

Leaks and Hacking in the Final Days

The divide in the country also manifested itself on television, when the two candidates squared off Thursday in the last debate before the election. According to observers, this debate was far more contentious than is normal for French elections, and it was marked by the candidates talking over each other and resorting to name calling. Macron repeatedly called his opponent a liar, and Le Pen accused Macron of corruption, repeating a claim that he had an offshore accounts.

Macron’s campaign asserted that, two hours before the debate started, an anonymous account posted documents on an internet forum asserting that Macron had an offshore account, and the information was quickly distributed on Twitter. Macron filed a complaint with a French prosecutor on Thursday. Subsequent analysis of the documents’ metadata indicates that whoever scanned the documents used the Canon iPR C700 and Canon iR-ADV 6255, printers that cost $100,000 and $29,999 respectively. The metadata could have been tampered with.

The following day, 9 gigabytes of data from Macron’s campaign were uploaded to the internet. Macron’s campaign did not deny the veracity of the leaked data, but assured the public that the leak had not disclosed any unlawful activity on their part.

The data includes tens of thousands of emails, photos and attachments up to April 24, 2017. Trend Micro, a cyber security firm, told The New York Times that the attack sent emails to campaign officials and others, linking to websites designed to bait them into disclosing their passwords. Trend Micro also released a report in April asserting that a similar technique was used against Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the U.S. presidency.

“Neither the ministry, nor any other ministry would be commenting on this because according to the law, campaigning has ended as of midnight,” a spokesman for the French interior ministry said, explaining why it would not comment on the alleged hacking attack.

The campaign blackout started ten minutes after the Macron team commented on the leak, meaning that his opponent has no means to comment. The French Election commission requested that the media should not comment on the contents of the leak, further alleging that some of the documents may be fake.

The French will head to the polls as rumors swirl amidst radio silence from the campaigns.

LIMA CHARLIE NEWS, NEW YORK BUREAU

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