Macron tops French election, to fight Le Pen for presidency

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Sun, 23 Apr 2017 - 09:13 GMT

Emmanuel Macron - AFP

Emmanuel Macron - AFP

PARIS- 23 April: Pro-European Emmanuel Macron will face far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in the ‎second round of France's presidential election, projections showed Sunday, making him ‎clear favourite to emerge as the country's youngest leader in modern history.‎

Macron was projected to win 23-24 percent in Sunday's first round, slightly ahead of ‎National Front (FN) leader Le Pen with 21.6-23 percent, according to estimates on ‎public television.‎
They will compete in a run-off on May 7.‎
‎"The French have expressed their desire for change," Macron told AFP in a statement.‎
‎"We're clearly turning a page in French political history," said the 39-year-old, whose ‎bid to shake up traditional politics and his marriage to his former school teacher has ‎fascinated the country.‎

The outcome capped an extraordinary campaign in a deeply divided and demoralised ‎France, which has been hit by a series of terror attacks since 2015 and remains stuck ‎with low economic growth.‎

It also signalled a stunning shake-up in national politics, with no candidate from France's ‎mainstream Socialist and Republicans parties in the second round for the first time in 60 ‎years.‎
Macron, who had never before stood for election and only started his centrist movement ‎‎12 months ago, will go into the second round as the clear frontrunner.‎

Polls released after the first-round estimates showed the centrist, pro-business ‎moderniser would easily beat Le Pen, who has hardened her anti-immigration and anti-‎Europe rhetoric over the last week.‎
The French vote was being closely watched as a bellwether for populist sentiment ‎following the election of Donald Trump as US President and Britain's vote to leave the ‎EU.‎

Throughout the campaign, Macron insisted that France was "contrarian" -- ready to elect ‎a pro-globalisation liberal at a time when rightwing nationalists are making gains across ‎the world.‎
‎"It's a victory for openness, social-mindedness and... an understanding of the modern ‎economy that will restore French competitiveness," Macron supporter Marie-Helene ‎Visconti, a 60-year-old artist, told AFP at his election party.‎

Le Pen will follow in her father Jean-Marie's footsteps who made it through to the ‎second round in 2002. He suffered a stinging defeat when mainstream parties closed ‎ranks to keep him out.‎

Reaction at her headquarters was subdued as it emerged she would not top the vote and ‎her score would be signficantly lower than projections earlier in the year which had ‎shown her winning around 27 percent.‎

She signalled her intent by saying the run-off vote would be about France's future, with ‎her vision of the country out of the European Union and behind reinforced borders the ‎opposite of Macron's.‎
‎"The major issue of this election is runaway globalisation, which is putting our ‎civilisation in danger," she told supporters in her party's stronghold Henin-Beaumont in ‎northern France.‎

‎"The French have a very simple choice. Either we continue on the path of complete ‎deregulation, with no borders and no protection... mass immigration and free movement ‎of terrorists... or you chose France," she added.‎

Far-right expert Nonna Mayer at Sciences Po university said a Le Pen victory was not ‎impossible, "but it seems unlikely that she will carry the second round."‎
‎"If she wins, it will obviously be an anti-Europe, protectionist, exclusionist line that wins ‎and which could have troubling consequences for Europe and France," she added.‎

There were already signs that Macron, whose wife Brigitte is 25 years older than him, ‎would enjoy support from his defeated rivals in the Republicans and Socialist parties.‎
Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon, forecast to win a humiliating six percent and finish in ‎fifth place, said the left had suffered a "historic drubbing" but he urged voters to keep ‎out Le Pen who he said was "an enemy of the republic".‎

Scandal-hit Republicans candidate Francois Fillon followed suit, saying "there is no ‎other choice than voting against the extreme-right. I will vote for Emmanuel Macron."‎
Fillon was seen as a favourite until January when his campaign was torpedoed by ‎allegations that he gave his British-born wife a fictitious job as his parliamentary ‎assistant for which she was paid nearly 700,000 euros ($750,000).‎

The former prime minister has accused President Francois Hollande of being behind a ‎campaign to destabilise him and said the obstacles he had faced were "too numerous, ‎too cruel".‎
Hollande, who decided not to seek re-election in the face of disastrous approval ratings, ‎called Macron to congratulate him.‎

The vote took place under heavy security after the killing on Thursday of a policeman ‎on Paris's Champs Elysees avenue claimed by the Islamic State group.‎
With France still under the state of emergency imposed after the Paris attacks of ‎November 2015, around 50,000 police and 7,000 soldiers were deployed to guard ‎voters.‎
Thursday's shooting on the most famous street in Paris was the latest in a bloody series ‎of terror attacks that have cost more than 230 lives since 2015.‎

Nearly 47 million people were eligible to vote in the eurozone's second biggest economy ‎and turnout was forecast to be high at around 80 percent on a bright spring day.‎
Le Pen faces several investigations over campaign financing and the use of expenses at ‎the European parliament where she has a seat.‎

‎"I think like everyone, I've found it a terrible campaign," 79-year-old Marie Mourait told ‎AFP in southwest Paris as she headed to church after voting.‎
The results will be seen as a credit to French pollsters, however, who successfully ‎forecast the results.‎

They consistently showed Macron and Le Pen as the frontrunners, followed by Fillon, ‎far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon and Hamon.‎

Support for Melenchon surged in recent weeks on the back of assured performances in ‎two televised debates, briefly raising the spectre of a final round in which the anti-EU ‎Communist-backed candidate would face off against Le Pen.‎

He was on course for around 19-20 percent of the vote, underlining the strength of anti-‎establishment sentiment in France.‎

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