Paris Incumbent French President Emmanuel Macron will face far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen in the winner-takes-all run-off for the French presidency, after both on Sunday advanced in the first round of voting in the country’s elections for another head-to-head confrontation. The fiercely opposing visions of France clashed.
Polling agency forecasts and partial official vote counting showed France repeating the 2017 run-off that made Macron the country’s youngest-ever president – but without guaranteeing this time that the outcome will be the same.
Addressing his supporters who chanted “five more years”, Macron warned that “nothing has been done” and said the next two weeks of campaigning for the second round of elections on April 24 will be “decisive for our country and Europe”.
Claiming that Le Pen would align France with “populists and xenophobia,” he said, “This is not us.”
“I want to reach all those who want to work in France,” he said. He pledged to “implement the project of progress, openness and French and European independence that we defended.”
The election results will have wide international influence as Europe struggles to contain the havoc wrought by Russian President Vladimir Putin.. Macron has strongly supported European Union sanctions against Russia, while Le Pen has expressed concern about their impact on living standards in France. Macron is also a strong supporter of NATO and the close cooperation of the 27 EU members.
With two-thirds of the votes counted, Macron and Le Pen comfortably withdrew from hard-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, from the runoff in which the two third-placed candidates ran.
Macron, 44, won by a landslide five years ago, but is preparing for a tougher second round against his 53-year-old political opponent. Le Pen promises seismic turnarounds for France – both domestically and internationally – if she is elected as the country’s first female president.
Macron looked for months as if he had managed to become the first French president in 20 years to win a second term. But National Rally leader Le Pen, in a belated surge, has tapped into the first issue on many French voters’ minds: rising food, gas and heating costs due to rising inflation and the fallout from Western sanctions on Russia.
Polling agencies’ forecasts put both Macron and Le Pen on course to improve their bids in the first round of 2017, highlighting how French politics has become increasingly polarized. Macron was expected to gain a significant lead in the first round with about 28% of support, ahead of Le Pen, expected with 23%-24% of the vote. Melenchon got about 20% of the support.
Both Macron and Le Pen now need to reach out to voters who backed the 10 presidential candidates who were defeated on Sunday to win the second round.
Le Pen appeared to be targeting the leftist Milchon supporters in particular by promising “social justice” and reforms for “a fractured France”.
“The French have honored me by qualifying for the second round,” Le Pen said. Her supporters celebrated with champagne and interrupted her speech with chants of “We will win!”
However, some of her defeated rivals were so concerned about the prospect of Le Pen defeating Macron that they urged their supporters on Sunday to turn their second-round vote to the incumbent. Addressing his sometimes tearful supporters, Melenchon repeatedly said: “We must not give a single vote to Mrs. Le Pen.”
Defeated Conservative candidate Valerie Pecres described herself as “extremely concerned”, and warned of “the chaos that would ensue” if Le Pen were elected, saying the far-right leader was not too close to power. Pecres said she would vote for Macron in the run-off.
Polls show that only a few percentage points can separate familiar opponents in the second round. The run-off is likely to be much more confrontational than the first, which was largely overshadowed by the war in Ukraine.
Handing her blue ballot envelope in the northern town of Henin-Beaumont, Le Pen said “given the situation in the country and in the world,” the outcome of the election could determine “not only the next five years, but probably the next 50 years” in France.
In the 27-nation European Union, only France has a nuclear arsenal and has a veto in the United Nations Security Council.
To beat Le Pen in the run-off, Macron must mark her years-long effort to rebrand to make herself look less extreme, a shift that even highlighted her love of cats. Macron accused Le Pen of pushing an extremist manifesto to racist and destructive policies. Le Pen wants to roll back some rights for Muslims, ban them from wearing headscarves in public, and drastically reduce immigration from outside Europe.
Her cute image captured some voters but made others more suspicious.
Yves Mayo, a retired engineer, said he voted only for Macron to balance Le Pen. He said he feared her longstanding hostility to the European Union could lead to an attempt to take France out of the union, although she dropped that from her statement.
“I don’t think it has changed at all,” he said. “It’s the same thing, but with cats.”
“Amateur organizer. Wannabe beer evangelist. General web fan. Certified internet ninja. Avid reader.”