Emmanuel Macron will face far-right rival Marine Le Pen in the second and final stage of the French presidential election on April 24 after they beat the other candidates in the first round of voting on Sunday, according to estimates.
With some 85 per cent of the votes counted, polling agency estimates based on results so far showed Macron winning about 28 per cent and Le Pen 23 per cent of the first-round votes, ahead of the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon with around 21-22 per cent.
The result of Sunday’s vote suggests that the 53-year-old Le Pen is closer than ever to winning power for the far right in France and emulating the nationalist victories of Donald Trump in the US and supporters of Brexit in the UK six years ago.
Le Pen is sceptical of the EU, has said she would withdraw from Nato’s military command structure and has in the past been an admirer of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. If she wins it would send shockwaves across Europe and the world at a time when Russian forces are waging war on European soil in Ukraine.
Le Pen told supporters that the final vote in two weeks would be to decide the fate of “society and even of civilisation” and that, if she won, she would restore the country’s “prosperity and grandeur”. She said she planned to be president of “all the French”.
Whereas Le Pen mentioned the need to deal with immigration and restore law and order, Macron told his supporters that he stood for “progress and openness”. While he wanted to fight Islamist “separatism” he rejected xenophobia and the idea of stopping Muslims and Jews from eating according to their religious strictures.
“That’s not us,” he said. “Make no mistake. This contest is not finished and the debate we’ll have in the next two weeks will be decisive for our country and for Europe . . . I want a France rooted in a strong Europe.”
Both Macron and Le Pen immediately started hunting for the votes of losing candidates. Macron named and thanked each of the 10 candidates who failed to qualify from the first round and told his supporters to show them respect.
Eric Zemmour, the anti-immigration television polemicist who briefly eclipsed Le Pen after entering the race last year, is projected to have won 7 per cent of the first-round vote — and most of his supporters have told pollsters they will support Le Pen in the second round.
Sunday’s results underlined the collapse of support for the traditional parties of left and right — the Socialists and conservative Les Républicains who between them provided all French presidents between 1958 and Macron’s victory in 2017 — and the rise of the nationalist extremes.
Valérie Pécresse, the conservative candidate, is expected to end up with just 5 per cent of votes in the first round. Yannick Jadot of the Greens is also given 5 per cent and Anne Hidalgo, the Paris mayor and Socialist candidate, 2 per cent.
Both Macron and Le Pen scored slightly better in the first round than in 2017 and it appears that voters flocked late to both leading candidates.
Fighting her third presidential campaign, Le Pen surged in the opinion polls in recent weeks after focusing on concern at the rising cost of living at a time when prices of petrol and diesel and other goods have spiked after Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
She has said she would crack down on Islamists and on immigration and forbid women to wear the veil in public, on the grounds that it is an “Islamist uniform”.
The liberal internationalist Macron — who has been involved in intense Nato, G7 and EU negotiations over sanctions against Russia and support for Ukraine — entered the campaign late and lost his early poll lead as he tried to convince voters that they needed to give him a second five-year term at the Elysée Palace.
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Macron argues that Le Pen as president would be a danger to France, the EU and the western alliance and has criticised her protectionist economic programme as incoherent and impossible to finance. His manifesto includes persisting with reform and tax cuts to modernise the economy and attract foreign investment, while aiming for full employment.
Data and graphics by Steve Bernard, Oli Elliott and Martin Stabe