Futures rally after centrist takes first round in French election

Owen Stevens
April 24, 2017

Pro-European Union centrist Macron will face far-right nationalist contender Marine Le Pen in a May 7 runoff after topping the vote in Sunday's first round.

That means France could end up with a choice between candidates from the far-left and far-right, or a far-right stalwart facing off against a political novice.

Of the two other candidates close enough in opinion polls to be in with a good chance of making the runoff, Jean-Luc Melenchon offers a far-left tax-and-spend platform that has much in common with Le Pen's, although without her plans to restrict immigration.

Macron came in first in Sunday's vote, with just over 23 percent; Le Pen had 21 percent; Melenchon and losing conservative candidate Francois Fillon each had 19 percent.

"Either we continue to disintegrate without any borders, without any controls, unfair worldwide competition, mass immigration and the free circulation of terrorists, or you choose France with borders", she added.

For them to win the top two qualifying positions would represent a seismic shift in the political landscape, as the second round would feature neither of the mainstream parties that have governed France for decades.

The poll is the first to be held during a state of emergency, put in place since the Paris attacks of November 2015 and more than 50,000 police and gendarmes were deployed to the 66,000 polling stations across the country.

At the post-election party at Porte de Versailles in the south of Paris, Macron supporters waved both French and European Union flags.

The European Jewish Congress, noting that Monday was Holocaust Remembrance Day, said it was regrettable that more than one in five voters had chosen Le Pen in the first round.

Almost 47 million people are eligible to vote in the eurozone's second biggest economy.

Fillon was the early frontrunner until his support waned after he was charged following accusations he gave his British-born wife a fictitious job as his parliamentary assistant for which she was paid almost 700,000 euros ($750,000) of public money.

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Commentators have said a low voter turnout would benefit far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, whose voters are seen to have more enthusiasm and are more certain to vote in a low turnout election than supporters of some other candidates.

With almost 90 percent of the vote in, Macron had almost 24 percent of the vote, followed by Le Pen at around 22 percent.

Le Pen, who wants to take France out of the euro and clamp down on immigration, has trailed Macron, a committed globalist, in nearly every opinion poll for the runoff by a margin of some 20 percentage points.

Le Pen, 48, known for her anti-immigration rhetoric, has vowed to take France out of EU. "I really don't want Fillon or Le Pen so I've chosen Macron because I think he is going to be in the second round".

As soon as voting ended, Le Pen's niece Marion Jeanne Caroline Marechal-Le Pen, called the election "a historical victory for patriots".

Asked about whether the pro-EU 39-year-old can provide enough reform for the Brussels bloc in order for it to survive, the MEP said: "We hope and I trust him for doing so".

But security has re-entered the debate since Thursday's killing of a policeman on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, and the arrest in Marseille on Tuesday of two men suspected of planning an imminent Islamist attack.

Mr Fillon voted in Paris but his Welsh-born wife Penelope - who has been handed preliminary charges for her role in the fake jobs scandal that rocked her husband's campaign - voted 155 miles away from him near their 14th-century manor house in Sarthe.

Despite the challenges he faces, Macron's win also shows voters can turn against the establishment without embracing the extremes.

In a defiant speech to supporters, Melenchon refused to concede defeat before the official count confirmed pollsters projections and did not say how he would vote in the next round. French voters appear to have sent a strong rebuke to the country's traditional political parties.

Other reports by VgToday

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