Reuters: Centrist Emmanuel Macron took a big step towards the French presidency on Sunday by winning the first round of voting and qualifying for a May 7 runoff alongside far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Though Macron, 39, is a comparative political novice who has never held elected office, new opinion polls on Sunday had him easily winning the final clash against the 48-year-old Le Pen.
Sunday’s outcome is a huge defeat for the two centre-right and centre-left groupings that have dominated French politics for 60 years, and also reduces the prospect of an anti-establishment shock on the scale of Britain’s vote last June to quit the European Union and the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president.
In a victory speech, Macron told supporters of his fledgling En Marche! (Onwards!) movement: “In one year, we have changed the face of French politics.” He went on to say he would bring in new faces and talent to transform a stale political system if elected.
Conceding defeat even before figures from the count came in, rival conservative and Socialist candidates urged their supporters now to put their energies into backing Macron and stopping any chance of a second-round victory by Le Pen, whose anti-immigration and anti-Europe policies they said spelled disaster for France.
A Harris survey taken on Sunday saw Macron winning the runoff by 64% to 36, and an Ipsos/Sopra Steria poll gave a similar result.
As investors breathed a collective sigh of relief at what the market regarded as the best of several possible outcomes, the euro soared 2% to $1.09395 when markets opened in Asia before slipping back to around $1.0886.
It was the euro’s highest level since Nov. 10, the day after the results of the U.S. presidential election.
In a race that was too close to call up to the last minute, Macron, a pro-EU ex-banker and former economy minister who founded his own party only a year ago, had 23.9% of the votes against 21.4% for Le Pen, according to figures from the Interior Ministry with 96% of votes counted.
Seconds after the first projections came through, Macron supporters at a Paris conference centre burst into the national anthem, the Marseillaise. Many were under 25, reflecting some of the appeal of a man aiming to become France’s youngest head of state since Napoleon.
“President of patriots”
With an eye to Le Pen’s avowedly France-first policies, Macron told the crowd: “I want to be the president of patriots in the face of a threat from nationalists.”
If he wins, Macron’s biggest challenges will lie ahead, as he first tries to secure a working parliamentary majority for his young party in June, and then seeks broad popular support for labour reforms that are sure to meet resistance.
Addressing the battle ahead, he declared he would seek to break with a system that “has been incapable of responding to the problems of our country for more than 30 years”.
“From today I want to build a majority for a government and for a new transformation. It will be made up of new faces and new talent in which every man and woman can have a place,” he said.
Le Pen, who is herself bidding to make history as France’s first female president, follows in the footsteps of her father, who founded the National Front and reached the second round of the presidential election in 2002.
Jean-Marie Le Pen was ultimately crushed when voters from right and left rallied around the conservative Jacques Chirac in order to keep out a party whose far-right, anti-immigrant views they considered unpalatably xenophobic.
His daughter has done much to soften her party’s image, and found widespread support among young voters by pitching herself as an anti-establishment defender of French workers and French interests against global corporations and an economically constricting EU.
“The great issue in this election is the rampant globalisation that is putting our civilisation at risk,” she declared in her first word after results came through.
She went on to launch an attack on the policies of Macron, whom she again described as “the money king” in a disparaging swipe at his investment banker background.
His deregulation policies, she said, would lead to unjust international competition against France’s business interests, mass immigration and free movement of terrorists.
Nevertheless, with several defeated candidates calling on supporters to stop her, Le Pen she seems destined to suffer a similar fate to her father when she goes up against Macron in two weeks’ time.
Defeated Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon, Socialist Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and defeated right-wing candidate Francois Fillon all urged voters to rally behind Macron in the second round.
In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman hailed Macron’s success, tweeting: “Good that @EmmanuelMacron succeeded with his policy for a strong EU and social market economy. Wishing him all the best for the next two weeks.”
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker expressed similar good wishes for the second round, his spokesman said in Brussels.