France’s incumbent leader Emmanuel Macron and far-right challenger Marine Le Pen are heading for an April 24 presidential election runoff, projections showed after first-round voting on Sunday.
- Estimates suggest Mr Macron won 27 per cent in the first round of voting, against Ms Le Pen’s 25
- Surveys suggest France’s past bipartisan unity against far-right candidates has crumbled
- The presidential runoff is set for April 24
Partial official results put Mr Macron at 27.4 per cent in the first round of voting, with Ms Le Pen at 25.5 per cent after around 38 million votes were tallied.
The results set up a duel between an economic liberal with a globalist outlook in Mr Macron and a deeply euro-skeptical economic nationalist who, until the Ukraine war, was an open admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Ifop pollsters predicted a tight runoff, with 51 per cent for Mr Macron and 49 per cent for Ms Le Pen. The gap is so tight that victory either way is within the margin of error.
Who next holds the French presidency will depend on how those who backed Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen’s rivals cast their ballots.
Conservative candidate Valerie Pecresse, the Socialists’ Anne Hidalgo, the Greens’ Yannick Jadot and the Communists’ Fabien Roussel said they would back Mr Macron to block the far-right.
“So that France does not fall into hatred of all against all, I solemnly call on you to vote on April 24 against the far-right of Marine Le Pen,” said Ms Hidalgo.
Ms Pecresse warned of “disastrous consequences” if Mr Macron did not win the runoff.
“[Ms Le Pen’s] historical proximity with Vladimir Putin discredits her from defending the interests of our country in these tragic times… Despite my strong disagreement with Macron… I will vote for him in order to stop Marine Le Pen, “she said.
But another far-right candidate, Eric Zemmour, will call on supporters to back Ms Le Pen, according to Marion Marechal, an ally of Mr Zemmour and Ms Le Pen’s niece.
To the cheers of supporters chanting, “We will win! We will win!”, Ms Le Pen said she wanted to unite all French.
“I intend without waiting to sew back up the tears that a torn-apart France suffers,” she said.
The runoff “will be a choice of civilization,” she said, adding that her platform would protect the weak and make France independent.
Macron seeking rare second term
Not for two decades has a French president won a second term.
Barely a month ago, Mr Macron was on a course to comfortably reverse that, riding high in polls thanks to strong economic growth, fragmented opposition and his statesman role in trying to avert war on Europe’s eastern flank.
But he paid a price for late entry into the campaign during which he eschewed market walkabouts in provincial France in favor of a single big rally outside Paris.
A plan to make people work longer also proved unpopular, enabling Ms Le Pen to narrow the gap in opinion polls.
She, by contrast, for months toured towns and villages across France, focusing on cost-of-living issues that trouble millions and tapping into anger toward the political elite.
“Marine Le Pen knew how to talk to people about their more concrete problems. During the next two weeks, he [Mr Macron] will have to pay more attention to what is happening in France, take a diplomatic break, “said Adrien Thierry, a 23-year-old supporter.
After Mr Macron enjoyed a lead of more than 10 points as late as mid-March, voter surveys ahead of the first round showed his margin of victory in an eventual runoff whittled down to within the margin of error.
“I’m scared of the political extremes,” said pensioner Therese Eychenne, 89, after voting for Mr Macron in Paris.
“I don’t know what would become of France.”
Le Pen victory would be a jolt to the establishment
The hard left’s Jean-Luc Melenchon polled third, with an estimated 20 per cent, the projections showed.
“You should not support Le Pen… there must not be one single vote for Le Pen in [the] second round, “Mr Melenchon said in a speech to supporters.
A Le Pen victory on April 24 would constitute a similar jolt to the establishment as Britain’s Brexit vote to leave the European Union (EU) or Donald Trump’s 2017 entry into the White House.
France, the EU’s second-largest economy, would lurch from being a driving force for European integration to be led by a euro-skeptic who is also suspicious of the NATO military alliance.
While Ms Le Pen has ditched past ambitions for a “Frexit” or to haul France out of the eurozone’s single currency, she envisages the EU as a mere alliance of sovereign states.
In the past French elections in 2002 and 2017, voters on the left and right have united to block the far-right from power.
However, surveys suggest the so-called “republican front” has crumbled, with many left-wing voters saying they are loath to endorse a leader they deride as arrogant and a “president of the rich”.
“We want change, so why not give her a chance [in round two]? “technician Alex Talcone said in Paris after voting for hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon.