(Editor's note: Updates official vote count)
(CNSNews.com) – Populist right-wing National Front leader Marine le Pen and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron look set to go through to a run-off in France’s presidential election, after Sunday’s first round ended the presidential aspirations of the country’s two major political trends.
Le Pen told voters than in the two weeks until the run-off, no less than “the survival of France” was at stake.
With 97 percent of first-round votes counted, Macron leads with 23.86 percent of votes, narrowly ahead of Le Pen at 21.43 points, according to interior ministry figures. No candidate having received a majority, the run-off between them will take place on May 7.
Républicains candidate Francois Fillon and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, head of the leftist movement Rebellious France, were not far behind at 19.94 and 19.62 percent respectively. Much further back was the flagbearer for President Francois Hollande’s Socialists, Benoit Hamon, lagging at 6.35 percent.
Mélenchon, who surged in the latter stages of the campaign, has not conceded, saying commentators should be careful and not count him out yet.
For the first time in more than four decades, the French presidency will not be held by either the Socialists or center-right whose latest incarnation is the Républicains. It is also the first time a National Front candidate has gone through to a second-round run-off since 2002, when the candidate was Le Pen’s often controversial father, Jean-Marie le Pen. Jacques Chirac beat him in a landslide run-off.
The ballots have not all been counted yet, but it quickly became clear that a major issue for the next two weeks of campaigning will be the European Union and France’s place in it.
Macron told voters he would be a strong voice for their country “and Europe.”
His strong showing quickly drew praise from relieved E.U. figures, including the president of the E.U. executive Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini.
Congratulations also came from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who faces her own re-election battle in the fall, while German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel voiced confidence that Macron would defeat right-wing extremism and euroskepticism in the run-off.
Michel Barnier, a French politician who has been appointed by the E.U. to oversee the union’s negotiations for Britain’s departure, tweeted that France should “remain European,” and said he would support Macron in the May 7 run-off.
By contrast to Macron, Le Pen has campaigned on an E.U. re-negotiation, to be followed by a referendum.
Macron and Le Pen will now be looking to win the backing of those who supported the defeated candidates in Sunday’s vote – and for endorsements from leading political figures.
Pollsters have for some time predicted that Macron would handily win the May 7 run-off – should he and Le Pen be the final two – but Le Pen has expressed confidence she can win the support of some of those whose candidates did not make it through.
“I appeal to all sincere patriots, wherever they come from, whatever their origins, whatever their background, and their vote in the first round, to join me,” Le Pen said on Sunday night, declaring that “the survival of France” was at stake.
“The French have a very simple choice,” she told supporters – either a France with borders that protect jobs, purchasing power, security and national identity, or “the path of total deregulation, without borders, and without protection, with consequences: delocalization, unfair international competition, mass immigration, free movement of terrorists.”
Two early important endorsements for Macron came from Fillon and from Alain Juppé, a former prime minister who came third in last November’s Républicains primaries.