Macron, Le Pen set for French run-off
Centrist Emmanuel Macron has taken a big step towards the French presidency by winning the first round of voting and qualifying for a May 7 run-off alongside far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Though Macron, 39, is a comparative political novice who has never held elected office, new opinion polls on Sunday had him easily winning the final clash against the 48-year-old Le Pen.
Sunday’s outcome is a huge defeat for the two centre-right and centre-left groupings that have dominated French politics for 60 years, and also reduces the prospect of an anti-establishment shock on the scale of Britain’s vote last June to quit the European Union and the election of Donald Trump as US president.
In a victory speech, Macron told supporters of his fledgling En Marche! (Onwards!) movement: “In one year, we have changed the face of French politics.” He went on to say he would bring in new faces and talent to transform a stale political system if elected.
Conceding defeat even before figures from the count came in, rival conservative and Socialist candidates urged their supporters now to put their energies into backing Macron and stopping any chance of a second-round victory by Le Pen, whose anti-immigration and anti-Europe policies they said spelled disaster for France.
In a race that was too close to call up to the last minute, Macron, a pro-EU ex-banker and former economy minister who founded his own party only a year ago, won 23.75 per cent of the votes against 21.53 per cent for Le Pen, final voting figures from the Interior Ministry showed.
Seconds after the first projections came through, Macron supporters at a Paris conference centre had burst into the national anthem, the Marseillaise. Many were under 25, reflecting some of the appeal of a man aiming to become France’s youngest head of state since Napoleon.
With an eye to Le Pen’s avowedly France-first policies, Macron told the crowd: “I want to be the president of patriots in the face of a threat from nationalists.”
If he wins, Macron’s biggest challenges will lie ahead, as he first tries to secure a working parliamentary majority for his young party in June, and then seeks broad popular support for labour reforms that are sure to meet resistance.
Addressing the battle ahead, he declared he would seek to break with a system that “has been incapable of responding to the problems of our country for more than 30 years”.
Le Pen, who is herself bidding to make history as France’s first female president, follows in the footsteps of her father, who founded the National Front and reached the second round of the presidential election in 2002.
She is pitching herself as an anti-establishment defender of French workers and French interests against global corporations and an economically constricting EU.
“The great issue in this election is the rampant globalisation that is putting our civilisation at risk,” she declared in her first words after results came through.
She went on to launch an attack on the policies of Macron, whom she again described as “the money king” in a disparaging swipe at his investment banker background.
His deregulation policies, she said, would lead to unjust international competition against France’s business interests, mass immigration and free movement of terrorists.
Nevertheless, with several defeated candidates calling on supporters to stop her, Le Pen seems destined to suffer a similar fate to her father when she goes up against Macron in two weeks’ time.