Emmanuel Macron is hoping to become the first French leader since Jacques Chirac in 2002 to win a second term in the final round of the presidential election.

Some 48.7 million French are eligible to vote.
Some 48.7 million French are eligible to vote. (AFP)

France votes in presidential elections facing a stark choice between centrist President Emmanuel Macron and challenger Marine Le Pen, after a fractious campaign that has seen the French far-right come its closest yet to winning power.

Polls in mainland France opened at 0600GMT on Sunday and will close 12 hours later, immediately followed by projections that usually predict the result with a degree of accuracy.

Macron goes into the election with a reasonable lead in polls over Le Pen, an advantage he consolidated in the frenetic final days of campaigning, including a no-holds-barred performance in the pre-election debate.

But analysts have warned Macron, who rose to power in 2017 aged 39 as the country's youngest ever modern leader, can take nothing for granted with turnout crucial to ensuring victory.

At midday, voter participation stood at 26.4 percent, nearly two percentage points lower than at the same time five years ago, when Macron handily beat Le Pen in their first face-off. But turnout was above the 25.5 percent seen at midday in the first round of voting on April 10, said the interior ministry.

To take account of the time difference with mainland France, polls opened earlier in overseas territories, home to almost three million French.

The first vote in the election was cast midday Saturday Paris time by a 90-year-old man in the tiny island territory of Saint Pierre and Miquelon off the northern coast of Canada. Some 48.7 million French are eligible to vote.

READ MORE: France votes as Macron seeks second term in tight presidential race

High stakes

A Le Pen victory would send shockwaves across Europe. 

Left-leaning EU leaders including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have pleaded with France to choose Macron over his rival.

The stakes are huge, with Macron pledging reform and tighter EU integration while Le Pen insists the bloc should be modified in what opponents describe as a "Frexit" by another name.

Macron has also bitterly opposed her plan to make it illegal to wear the Muslim headscarf in public.

They have also clashed on Russia, with Macron seeking to portray Le Pen as incapable of dealing with Russia's onslaught against Ukraine due to a loan her party took from a Russian-Czech bank.

Polls have shown Macron with a lead of around 10 percentage points in an outcome much closer than in 2017, when the same candidates faced off.

Macron won then with 66 percent. The other far-right run-off challenge was in 2002 when Chirac crushed Marine Le Pen's father Jean-Marie with over 82 percent of the vote.

READ MORE: Macron confident despite rival Le Pen closing in ahead of French vote

Source: TRTWorld and agencies