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Candidates for the 2017 presidential election (LtoR) Francois Fillon, former French Prime Minister, member of the Republicans and candidate of the French centre-right, Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, Jean-Luc Melenchon of the French far left Parti de Gauche, Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader and Benoit Hamon of the French Socialist party (PS) pose before a debate organised by French private TV channel TF1 in Aubervilliers, outside Paris, France, March 20, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick Kovarik/Pool(reuters_tickers)
By Adrian Croft and Ingrid Melander
PARIS (Reuters) - Nearly half of all French voters have yet to decide who they want to be president with only a month to go until the election, an opinion poll showed on Friday.
Amid the unprecedented level of voter uncertainty, a senior Socialist minister revealed he was abandoning his party's candidate and backing favourite Emmanuel Macron in a bid to keep far-right leader Marine Le Pen from power.
The survey came hours after the scandal-hit conservative candidate Francois Fillon launched an extraordinary attack on Socialist President Francois Hollande, accusing him of orchestrating a plot against him.
The Odoxa poll showed that 43 percent of voters were undecided over which candidate to fall behind, in a close-fought presidential race that has thrown up a string of surprises.
The uncertainty is a reflection of Macron's lack of political experience, a Socialist party that is riven by splits and in disarray, Fillon's woes amid a judicial investigation into his alleged misuse of public funds and a buoyant far-right.
Voter surveys show independent centrist Macron and Le Pen neck-and-neck in the April 23 first round, and that they would go through to a run-off vote that Macron would win easily. Fillon lags in third and would be eliminated after the first vote.
Adding to the unpredictability, though, the Odoxa poll showed that 60 percent of Le Pen's potential voters and 57 percent of Fillon's had definitely decided on their candidate. That figure fell to 47 percent for Macron, 44 percent for far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, and 40 percent for Socialist Benoit Hamon.
Investors have been jittery about the possibility of Le Pen, leader of the anti-European Union, anti-immigration National Front, winning the election and taking France out of the euro.
Fillon, once the front runner, has slipped in the polls since media reports in late January that he had paid his wife, Penelope, hundreds of thousands of euros of public funds for work they may not have carried out.
FILLON CLAIMS GOVERNMENT PLOT
Fillon accused Hollande in an interview on Thursday of being involved in what he alleges is a government plot to spread damaging media leaks about his affairs to destroy his chances of being elected.
"Who gives them (media) these documents? The state services," Fillon said in the interview with France 2 television. The fake jobs scandal has been followed by reports accusing him of influence peddling and receiving gifts of free suits.
Asked if he meant politicians were behind the reports he said "I will go much further. I blame the president of the Republic."
Hollande rejected the accusations, and in an interview with France Info radio on Friday he said; "There's a level of dignity and responsibility to be respected and I think that Mr Fillon has fallen short."
After revealing on Thursday that he was backing Macron, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, the most popular government minister after close to 40 years in politics, was accused of betrayal by official Socialist candidate Hamon.
Hamon's poor poll ratings make his elimination in round one a near certainty.
In an interview with Ouest-France, a newspaper from his own political fiefdom, Le Drian justified a decision that has sent shockwaves through the Socialist camp.
"Like a majority of French voters, I refuse to allow the presidential election turn into a choice between the far-right and the hard-right," he said.
"Emmanuel Macron is for me the only one embodying my values in that regard," he said, adding he also saw his pro-European stance - which contrasts with Le Pen's pledge to ditch the euro currency - as essential.
Macron, who did a stint as economy minister in the Socialist government before quitting to launch his own movement last year, has gate-crashed the presidential election and taken the lead in opinion polls - helped to some extent by the evaporation of support for scandal hit Fillon, and by divisions on the left.
(Editing by Andrew Callus and Richard Lough)