Macron, Le Pen to face off in May

  • French centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron addresses his supporters at his election day headquarters in Paris , Sunday April 23, 2017. Macron and far-right populist Marine Le Pen advanced Sunday to a runoff in France's presidential election, remaking the country's political system and setting up a showdown over its participation in the European Union. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena) Christophe Ena

  • Centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron shakes hands with a supporter after casting his ballot in the first round of the French presidential election, in le Touquet, northern France, on Sunday. Macron and far-right populist Marine Le Pen will face off on May 7. AP

  • Centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron waves supporters after casting his vote in the first round of the French presidential election, in le Touquet, northern France, Sunday April 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena) Christophe Ena

  • Army soldiers patrol past posters showing faces of the candidates for the first-round presidential election near a polling station in Paris, Sunday, April 23, 2017. French voters are casting ballots for their next president in an unusually close first-round election Sunday, after a campaign dominated by concerns about jobs and immigration and clouded by security fears following a recent attack on police guarding the Champs-Elysees in Paris. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) Emilio Morenatti

  • A man picks a ballot paper before voting for the first-round presidential election at a polling station in Paris, Sunday, April 23, 2017. French voters are casting ballots for their next president in an unusually close first-round election Sunday, after a campaign dominated by concerns about jobs and immigration and clouded by security fears following a recent attack on police guarding the Champs-Elysees in Paris. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) Emilio Morenatti

  • Army soldiers patrol near a polling station in Paris, Sunday, April 23, 2017. French voters are casting ballots for their next president in an unusually close first-round election Sunday, after a campaign dominated by concerns about jobs and immigration and clouded by security fears following a recent attack on police guarding the Champs-Elysees in Paris. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) Emilio Morenatti

  • A police officer secures a polling station where far-right leader and candidate for the 2017 French presidential election Marine Le Pen is voting for the first-round presidential election in Henin-Beaumont, northern France, Sunday, April 23, 2017. French voters are casting ballots for their next president in an unusually close first-round election Sunday, after a campaign dominated by concerns about jobs and immigration and clouded by security fears following a recent attack on police guarding the Champs-Elysees in Paris. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein) Frank Augstein

  • Far-left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon reacts after voting in the first round of the French presidential election, in Paris, Sunday April 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Francois Mori) Francois Mori

  • Far-right leader and candidate for the 2017 French presidential election Marine Le Pen exits a polling booth before voting for the first-round of the presidential election in Henin-Beaumont, northern France, Sunday, April 23, 2017. French voters are casting ballots for their next president in an unusually close first-round election Sunday, after a campaign dominated by concerns about jobs and immigration and clouded by security fears following a recent attack on police guarding the Champs-Elysees in Paris. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein) Frank Augstein

  • French President Francois Hollande poses for photographers while touring polling stations in Tulle, central France, after voting in the first round of the French presidential election, Sunday, April 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Bob Edme) Bob Edme

  • French centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, center left, poses with a family during in a fuel stop on the freeway as he drives back to Paris after voting in the first round of the French presidential election, in le Touquet, northern France, Sunday April 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena) Christophe Ena

  • French centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, center, poses with a fast food employees during in a fuel stop on the freeway as he drives back to Paris after voting in the first round of the French presidential election in le Touquet, northern France, Sunday April 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena) Christophe Ena

  • People line up before casting their vote for the first-round presidential election at a polling station in Paris, Sunday, April 23, 2017. French voters are casting ballots for their next president in an unusually close first-round election Sunday, after a campaign dominated by concerns about jobs and immigration and clouded by security fears following a recent attack on police guarding the Champs-Elysees in Paris. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) Emilio Morenatti

  • French centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, center, smiles during in a fuel stop on the freeway as he drives back to Paris after voting in the first round of the French presidential election, in le Touquet, northern France, Sunday April 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus) Thibault Camus

  • Far-right leader and candidate for the 2017 French presidential election, Marine Le Pen, blows a kiss on stage after exit poll results of the first round of the presidential election were announced at her election day headquarters in Henin-Beaumont, northern France, Sunday, April 23, 2017. Polling agency projections show far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron leading in the first-round French presidential election. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein) Frank Augstein

  • Far-right leader and candidate for the 2017 French presidential election, Marine Le Pen, waves to supporters after exit poll results of the first round of the presidential election were announced at her election day headquarters in Henin-Beaumont, northern France, Sunday, April 23, 2017. Polling agency projections show far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron leading in the first-round French presidential election. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler) Michel Spingler

  • Far-right leader and candidate for the 2017 French presidential election, Marine Le Pen, addresses supporters after exit poll results of the first round of the presidential election were announced at her election day headquarters in Henin-Beaumont, northern France, Sunday, April 23, 2017. Polling agency projections show far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron leading in the first-round French presidential election. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler) Michel Spingler

  • Far-right leader and candidate for the 2017 French presidential election, Marine Le Pen, waves to supporters while holding a bunch of flowers after exit poll results of the first round of the presidential election were announced at her election day headquarters in Henin-Beaumont, northern France, Sunday, April 23, 2017. Polling agency projections show far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron leading in the first-round French presidential election. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein) Frank Augstein

  • Far-right leader and candidate for the 2017 French presidential election, Marine Le Pen, waves to supporters while holding a bunch of flowers after exit poll results of the first round of the presidential election were announced at her election day headquarters in Henin-Beaumont, northern France, Sunday, April 23, 2017. Polling agency projections show far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron leading in the first-round French presidential election. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler) Michel Spingler

  • Far-right leader and candidate for the 2017 French presidential election, Marine Le Pen, cheers supporters on stage after exit poll results of the first round of the presidential election were announced at her election day headquarters in Henin-Beaumont, northern France, Sunday, April 23, 2017. Polling agency projections show far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron leading in the first-round French presidential election. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein) Frank Augstein

  • French centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte smile to supporters at his election day headquarters in Paris , Sunday April 23, 2017. Macron and far-right populist Marine Le Pen advanced Sunday to a runoff in France's presidential election, remaking the country's political system and setting up a showdown over its participation in the European Union. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena) Christophe Ena

  • French centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron kisses his wife Brigitte before addressing his supporters at his election day headquarters in Paris, Sunday April 23, 2017. Macron and far-right populist Marine Le Pen advanced Sunday to a runoff in France's presidential election, remaking the country's political system and setting up a showdown over its participation in the European Union. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus) Thibault Camus

  • French centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte hug as he addresses his supporters at his election day headquarters in Paris , Sunday April 23, 2017. Macron and far-right populist Marine Le Pen advanced Sunday to a runoff in France's presidential election, remaking the country's political system and setting up a showdown over its participation in the European Union. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena) Christophe Ena

  • Ballots are counted by volunteers for the first-round presidential election at a polling station in Paris, Sunday, April 23, 2017. French voters have casted ballots for the presidential election in a tense first-round poll that's seen as a test for the spread of populism around the world. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) Emilio Morenatti

Published: 4/23/2017 11:17:40 PM

Centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right populist Marine Le Pen advanced Sunday to a runoff in France’s presidential election, remaking the country’s political landscape and setting up a showdown over its participation in the European Union.

French politicians on the left and right immediately urged voters to block Le Pen’s path to power in the May 7 runoff, saying her virulently nationalist anti-EU and anti-immigration politics would spell disaster for France.

“Extremism can only bring unhappiness and division to France,” defeated conservative candidate Francois Fillon said. “As such, there is no other choice than to vote against the extreme right.”

The selection of Le Pen and Macron presented voters with the starkest possible choice between two diametrically opposed visions of the EU’s future and France’s place in it. It set up a battle between Macron’s optimistic vision of a tolerant France and a united Europe with open borders against Le Pen’s darker, inward-looking platform that called for closed borders, tougher security, less immigration and dropping the shared euro currency to return to the French franc.

With Le Pen wanting France to leave the EU and Macron wanting even closer cooperation between the bloc’s 28 nations, Sunday’s outcome meant the May 7 runoff will have undertones of a referendum on France’s EU membership.

The absence in the runoff of candidates from either the mainstream left Socialists or the right-wing Republicans party – the two main political groups that have governed post-war France – also marked a seismic shift in French politics. Macron, a 39-year-old investment banker, made the runoff on the back of a grassroots campaign without the support of a major political party.

With 75 percent of the vote counted, the Interior Ministry said Macron had just over 23 percent of the vote with Le Pen slightly behind with just under 23 percent. Fillon had just under 20 percent support and the far-left’s Jean-Luc Melenchon had just under 19 percent.

The euro jumped 2 percent to over $1.09 after the initial results were announced because Macron has vowed to reinforce France’s commitments to the EU and euro.

With a wink at his cheering, flag-waving supporters who yelled “We will win!” in his election day headquarters in Paris, Macron promised to be a president “who protects, who transforms and builds” if elected.

“You are the faces of French hope,” he said. His wife, Brigitte, joined him on stage before his speech – the only couple among the leading candidates to do so on Sunday night.

Le Pen, in a chest-thumping speech to cheering supporters, declared that she embodies “the great alternative” for French voters. She portrayed her duel with Macron as a battle between “patriots” and “wild deregulation” – warning of job losses overseas, mass migration straining resources at home and “the free circulation of terrorists.”

“The time has come to free the French people,” she said at her election day headquarters in the northern French town of Henin-Beaumont, adding that nothing short of “the survival of France” will be at stake in the presidential runoff.

Her supporters burst into a rendition of the French national anthem, chanted “We will win!” and waved French flags and blue flags with “Marine President” on them.

France is now steaming into unchartered territory, because whoever wins on May 7 cannot count on the backing of France’s political mainstream parties. Even under a constitution that concentrates power in the president’s hands, both Macron and Le Pen will need legislators in parliament to pass laws and implement much of their programs.

France’s legislative election in June now takes on a vital importance, with huge questions about whether Le Pen and the more moderate Macron will be able to rally lawmakers to their causes.

In Paris, protesters angry at Le Pen’s advance – some from anarchist and anti-fascist groups – scuffled with police. Officers fired tear gas to disperse the rowdy crowd.

Macron supporters at his Paris election day HQ went wild as polling agency projections showed the ex-finance minister making the runoff, cheering, singing “La Marseillaise” anthem, waving French tricolor and European flags and shouting “Macron, president!”

Mathilde Jullien, 23, said she is convinced Macron will beat Le Pen.

“He represents France’s future, a future within Europe,” she said. “He will win because he is able to unite people from the right and the left against the threat of the National Front and he proposes real solutions for France’s economy.”

Fillon said he would vote for Macron on May 7 because Le Pen’s program “would bankrupt France” and throw the EU into chaos. He also cited the history of “violence and intolerance” of Le Pen’s far-right National Front party, founded by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was trounced in the presidential runoff in 2002.

In a defiant speech to supporters, Melenchon refused to cede defeat before the official count confirmed pollsters’ projections and did not say how he would vote in the next round.

In a brief televised message, Socialist Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve urged voters to back Macron to defeat the National Front’s “funereal project of regression for France and of division of the French.”

Socialist presidential candidate Benoit Hamon, who was far behind in Sunday’s results, quickly conceded defeat. Declaring “the left is not dead!” he also urged supporters to back Macron.

Voting took place amid heightened security in the first election under France’s state of emergency, which has been in place since gun-and-bomb attacks in Paris in 2015.


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