Incumbent President Emmanuel Macron will face far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen in a runoff for the French presidency. Both qualified for the first round of elections in the country on Sunday to stage another head-to-head clash of their strongly opposed visions for France.
Projections from polling agencies and a partial official tally of votes showed France is preparing to repeat the 2017 run-off that made Macron the country’s youngest president – but with no guarantee this time the result will be the same .
Addressing his supporters, who chanted “five more years”, Macron warned that “nothing is done” and said the next two weeks of campaigning for the second round on April 24 would be “decisive for our country and for Europe”.
Claiming that Le Pen would align France with “populists and xenophobes”, he said: “It’s not us”.
“I want to reach out to anyone who wants to work for France,” he said. He undertook to “implement the project of progress, openness and French and European independence that we have defended”.
With two-thirds of the votes counted, Macron and Le Pen had comfortably moved away from far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who ended up in third place in the second round.
Other leading candidates conceded defeat and, with the exception of another far-right candidate, Éric Zemmour, they all urged voters to support the incumbent president on April 24 in order to block the far-right.
Macron and Le Pen appeal to divided voters
After the projections were announced, Macron sought broad support, calling on those on the left and right to join his project and defeat the far right.
“I want to reach out to anyone who wants to work for France. I am ready to invent something new to bring together diverse convictions and points of view in order to build a common action with them,” he said. declared, promising to “implement the project”. progress, French and European openness and independence that we have advocated.”
For his part, Le Pen appeared to target left-wing supporters in particular, promising “social justice” and solutions for “a France torn apart”.
“The French people honored me by qualifying me for the second round,” Le Pen said Sunday evening, thanking her supporters and calling on those who did not vote for Macron to support her in the second round.
His supporters celebrated with champagne and interrupted his speech by chanting “We will win!”
Yet some of his defeated rivals were so alarmed by the possibility of Le Pen defeating Macron in the presidential runoff that they urged their supporters on Sunday to shift their runoff votes to the incumbent. Mélenchon, addressing supporters who sometimes shed tears, repeated three times that Le Pen should not get “a single vote”.
Describing herself as ‘deeply concerned’, defeated conservative candidate Valérie Pécresse warned of ‘the chaos that would ensue’ if Le Pen were elected, saying the far-right leader has never been closer to power . Pécresse said she would vote for Macron in the second round.
Macron’s campaign stumbles
The second round of presidential elections in two weeks looks set to pit the centrist president seeking to modernize the economy and strengthen European cooperation against nationalist Le Pen, who has sought to soften her party’s racist reputation.
Le Pen this time tapped into the main issue on the minds of many French voters: the cost of living which has soared amid the disruptions of the war in Ukraine and the economic repercussions of Western sanctions against Russia.
Pollsters suggest just a few percentage points could separate familiar foes in the second-round vote.
This biting storyline sets up a second-round campaign that is likely to be far more divisive and volatile than the first round, which was largely overshadowed by the war in Ukraine.
Not for two decades has a French president won a second term.
Barely a month ago, Macron seemed almost certain to reverse that trend, leading the polls thanks to strong economic growth, a fragmented opposition and his role as a statesman in trying to avert war on the eastern flank of Europe.
But he paid the price for his late entry into the campaign, during which he shunned provincial market walks in favor of a single large rally outside Paris. A plan to make people work longer also proved unpopular.
By contrast, Le Pen traveled for months to towns and villages across France, focusing on the cost-of-living issues that trouble millions and tapping into deep anger at the distant political elite.
A more than 10-point lead Macron enjoyed until mid-March has evaporated, and polls of voters ahead of the first round showed his margin of victory in a possible run-off had shrunk. to the margin of error.
Importance beyond French borders
With its potential to reshape the identity of post-war France, especially if Le Pen wins, the election has great international significance.
A victory for Macron would be experienced as a defeat for European populists. It might also not be applauded in the Kremlin: Macron has strongly supported sanctions against Russia, while Le Pen has publicly worried about their impact on French living standards.
After the vote, Le Pen said that “given the situation in the country and in the world”, the outcome of Sunday’s elections could determine “not only the next five years, but probably the next 50 years” in France.
In the European Union of 27, only France has a nuclear arsenal and a right of veto at the United Nations Security Council. As Russian President Vladimir Putin continues his military assault on Ukraine, French power is helping to shape the European response. Macron is the only presidential candidate to fully support the NATO military alliance.
In 2017, Macron beat Le Pen by a landslide to become France’s youngest modern president. The victory for the former banker – now 44 – was seen as a victory against populist and nationalist politics, following the election of Donald Trump to the White House and the vote of Great Britain. Brittany to leave the EU, both in 2016.
As populist Viktor Orbán won a fourth consecutive term as Hungarian prime minister just days ago, all eyes have now turned to France’s surging far-right candidates, in particular the Rassemblement leader national Le Pen, who wants to ban the Muslim headscarf in the streets of France and halal and kosher butchers. , and drastically reduce immigration from outside Europe.
If Macron wins, however, it will be seen as a victory for the EU, which has shown rare unity of late in responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Observers say Macron’s re-election would mean a real likelihood of increased cooperation and investment in European security and defence, especially with a new pro-EU German government.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has given Macron an opportunity to demonstrate his influence on the international stage and restore his pro-NATO image in electoral debates.