Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen are preparing for their one chance for a knockout in the French presidential election race in their only one-on-one debate.

With polls suggesting the abstention rate could be the highest ever, around 19 to 22 per cent, the face-off could prove crucial for Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen to win over voters.

The debate itself will last two hours, be shown on three channels, (TF1, France 2 and BFMTV) as well as being broadcast on several radio stations.

“I have never seen this, it’s total confusion. Even for me, personally, I will only decide when I enter the voting booth,” said a 62-year-old Parisian taxi driver. It’s a sentiment echoed around the country.

French politics has been turned upside down by the presidential campaign, ending up with two non-establishment candidates to choose from. Both promise to revive France: Le Pen on a populist anti-immigration platform, and Macron via ultra-liberalism.

“It’s a stalemate. From both sides, it will end badly, there will be social turmoil, a lot of protests, no one will be satisfied. I’m a little pessimistic,” said one voter in Paris.

At recent protest marches a vote for centrist frontrunner Macron or far-right Le Pen was described as a choice between ‘cholera and the plague’.

While Le Pen is seeking to paint Macron as the continuation of the unpopular Socialist president, Macron may seek to capitalise on his rival’s flip-flopping over withdrawing from the euro, to win over a pessimistic public in tonight’s debate.

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