French far-left consultations show majority will abstain, vote blank in presidential runoff

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PARIS (Reuters) - Most registered activists for French far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon will abstain or leave their ballot papers blank in the presidential runoff between incumbent Emmanuel Macron and far-right challenger Marine Le Pen, an internal consultation showed.

Macron, a pro-European Union centrist, won the presidency in 2017 after easily beating Le Pen when voters rallied behind him in the runoff to keep her far-right party out of power.

Last Sunday's initial vote set up the same second-round battle, but Macron is facing a much tougher challenge with both sides desperate to court those who backed Melenchon, who came third in the April 10 first round with about 22% of the vote.

Melenchon has called on his supporters not to vote Le Pen, but stopped short of advocating Macron and said his party would hold a public consultation to help guide those who backed him.

According to results published on Sunday from about 215,000 people who took part, more than 66% said they would abstain, leave their ballot paper blank or spoil it. Just over 33% said they would vote for Macron. The option of voting for Le Pen was not given to respondents.

"The results are not an order to vote for anybody... everyone will conclude from this and vote as they see fit," Melenchon's campaign team wrote on its website.

With the electorate fragmented and undecided, the election will likely be won by the candidate who can reach beyond his or her camp to convince voters that the other option would be far worse.

For decades, a "republican front" of voters of all stripes rallying behind a mainstream candidate has helped to keep the far right out of power.

But Macron, whose sometimes abrasive style and policies that veered to the right have upset many voters, can no longer automatically count on that backing.

An IPSOS-Sopra-Steria poll on Saturday showed that some 33% of Melenchon voters would back Macron with 16% supporting Le Pen on April 24. But more than 50% of people questioned declined to give their view.

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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