Final results from France’s first round of presidential elections confirmed that centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and nationalist, anti-immigration candidate Marine Le Pen are heading into a runoff in two weeks, in what analysts describe as a political earthquake in France.
“In one year, we have entirely changed French politics,” Macron said at a victory rally Sunday night, while his challenger, Marine Le Pen, told an energized group of supporters “It is time to liberate the French people.”
It is the first time in the history of the modern French Republic that the presidency will be held by a member of a non-traditional party, highlighting a deep anti-establishment sentiment that ultimately could determine whether France remains a part of the EU or follows an independent path like that of post-Brexit Britain and the United States under Donald Trump.
Final results showed Macron garnered 23.8% of the vote, and Le Pen won 21.5%.Turnout was nearly 79%.The winner needs an absolute majority. That will be determined on May 7th.
Macron, a 39-year-old center-left former economy minister who is pro-EU and pro-business, led pre-election polls despite his previous association with unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande. The appeal of his year-old En Marche! movement lies mainly in France’s prosperous urban areas, where globalism has benefited many.
His challenge is to galvanize support of centrists and the left, including members of France’s fractured Socialist party, and convince voters he does not represent a continuation of Hollande’s policies.He received congratulations from EU officials.
Macron will face Le Pen and her National Front party, whose strongholds are largely in formerly industrial areas of France where unemployment is high, along with disillusionment with the modern economic and social order.Le Pen, who wants France out of the European Union, has succeeded in winning over large numbers of former leftists and centrists. Over the next two weeks, she hopes to draw from the right and the center, especially those who are most unhappy with the status quo.
“It is time to liberate the French people,” she told supporters at a rally Sunday.
News that Le Pen advanced to the second round sent left-wing protesters into Paris streets, where they clashed with police.
Among the top contenders in the 11 candidate field was former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, a center-right social conservative whose bid was damaged by allegations of creating fake jobs for close relatives.Conceding defeat on Sunday, he endorsed Macron.
50,000 police officers backed by 7,000 soldiers, including special forces, were deployed to the streets following a terrorist attack days earlier that was claimed by the Islamic State terrorist group.
The shooting along the iconic Champs-Elysees in the heart of Paris left one police officer dead and several other people injured.
Observers thought the attack would benefit Le Pen.
In a tweet one day after the Champs Elysees shooting, U.S. President Trump said, “The people of France will not take much more of this.Will have a big effect on presidential election!”
Analysts and voters interviewed saw this as the most unpredictable election since World War II. One third of voters were undecided just days before the balloting.
In the last few weeks before the vote, far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon surged in the polls and so did discussion of the previously obscure candidate in social media. Among the ways his campaign lured young voters was through the release of a video game in which a player pretending to be Melenchon is shown in a battle against the rich and powerful.
Anger at the establishment is the sentiment driving voters in an election in which security, France’s lagging economy, its 10 percent unemployment rate, and Islamist extremism are issues on the minds of those on the left and on the right.
That, say analysts, is what influenced large numbers of people, including some of the middle and upper class residents of Paris, to vote for candidates of the extreme.
“Some of them for the thrill of it. It’s the principle, you know. Like playing Russian roulette, but politically. Some others it would be because they despise the elite of this country,” said Thomas Guénolé, a political analyst in Paris, told VOA.
Socialist President Francois Hollande announced he would not to run for reelection after his approval ratings sank to 4%, something analysts widely attribute to a string of terrorist attacks in France and a stagnation of economic growth during his tenure. Hollande is the first incumbent president not to seek reelection in the history of the modern French republic.