“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.”
With 90% of votes counted, the Interior Ministry said Macron had nearly 24 percent, giving him a slight cushion over Le Pen’s 22 percent. Fillon, with just under 20 percent, was slightly ahead of the far-left’s Jean-Luc Melenchon, who had 19 percent.
The selection of Le Pen and Macron marked the first time in the 59-year history of the French Fifth Republic that neither of the country’s two main parties, the Socialists and the Republicans, made the second round of presidential balloting. 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 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 euro jumped 2 percent to more than $1.09 after the initial results were announced because Macron has vowed to reinforce France’s commitments to the EU and euro — and opinion polls give him a big lead heading into the second round.
While Le Pen faces the runoff as the underdog, it’s already stunning that she brought her once-taboo party so close to the Elysee Palace. She hopes to win over far-left and other voters angry at the global elite and distrustful of the untested Macron.
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.
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.
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.