France’s next president will be a former banker or a far-right populist

Fancy meeting you here.
Fancy meeting you here.
Image: Reuters/Charles Platiau
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In a hotly contested election featuring 11 candidates, the first round of voting for the next French president has winnowed the field to two: Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen.  

The runoff vote is in two weeks, on May 7.

The final results released by France’s interior ministry Monday (May 24) confirmed Macron as the first-round winner with 23.86% of the vote, and Le Pen with 21.43%. These aligned with France’s projected results based on early vote counts last night. 

Whatever happens next, France is on course for a break from the status quo, choosing between the 39-year-old Macron, who founded his own centrist party a year ago and has never run for office, or the far right’s Le Pen, who has pledged to yank France out of the euro and quit the EU.

For the first time in modern history, the center-left and center-right parties who have traditionally traded the presidency between them will not feature in the runoff.

Macron said he wanted (paywall) to be “president of the patriots faced with a nationalist threat” in a victory speech. “In your name, in the second round I will stand for the necessity of optimism and the way of hope that we want for our country and for Europe.”

From northern France’s Henin-Beaumont, a stronghold for Le Pen, she told supporters, ”The French people must seize this opportunity, because the enormous challenge of this election is the wild globalization that puts our civilization at risk.” She implored them to ”choose France with borders” rather than “disintegrate without any borders, without any controls, unfair international competition, mass immigration and the free circulation of terrorists.”

Marine Le Pen’s niece and political ally, told French television network TF1, “It’s a historical victory for those who support sovereignty. The French will have a clear choice between two things now. Those who didn’t see their candidate qualified in the second round and cannot vote for Macron should turn towards us.”

Conservative candidate François Fillon, who tried courting Le Pen’s anti-immigrant supporters during the race, threw his weight behind Macron in a live television address, saying that Le Pen’s National Front party has a “history of violence and intolerance (and) its programme would lead the country on the road to bankruptcy.”

In recent polls, Macron was projected to win 65% of the votes in a head-to-head runoff with Le Pen. Frenzied campaigning to win over vanquished rivals’ voters will now get going.

If Macron prevails, that means that the liberal, progressive world order is about to score a major victory against the tide of far-right populism sweeping the West. If Le Pen wins, an anti-immigrant, pro-Russia populist will take power in the very heart of Europe, possibly spelling doom for the EU.