PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday beat far-right rival Marine Le Pen by a comfortable margin, securing a second term and averting what would have been a political earthquake.
Cheers erupted as the results appeared on a giant screen at Parc du Champ de Mars at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, where Macron supporters waved French and EU flags. People hugged each other and chanted “Macron”.
In contrast, a gathering of discouraged Le Pen supporters erupted in boos and whistles in a sprawling reception hall on the outskirts of Paris.
Le Pen conceded defeat but pledged to continue the fight, bearing in mind the June legislative elections.
“I will never abandon the French,” she told the supporters, chanting “Marine! Marine!”
Early pollster projections showed Macron getting around 57-58% of the vote. These estimates are normally accurate but may be refined as official results arrive from around the country throughout the evening.
But Macron can expect little to no grace period after many, especially on the left, only reluctantly voted for him to prevent the far right from winning. The protests that marred part of his first term could erupt again fairly soon, as he tries to push through pro-business reforms.
“We will not spoil the victory (…) but the National Rally (of Le Pen) records its highest score”, declared the Minister of Health Olivier Veran on BFM TV.
“There will be continuity in government policy because the president has been re-elected. But we have also heard the message from the French,” he added, promising change.
A first major challenge will be the June legislative elections and opposition parties left and right will immediately launch a major push to try to vote in a parliament and government opposed to Macron.
Philippe Lagrue, 63, the technical director of a theater in Paris, said earlier in the day he voted for Macron after voting for far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round.
He said he would vote for Mélenchon again in June. “Mélenchon Prime Minister. It would be fun. Macron would be upset, but that’s the point.”
Pollsters Ifop, Elabe, OpinionWay and Ipsos predicted a 57.6-58.2% victory for Macron.
Centrist and pro-EU Macron’s victory was immediately hailed by his allies as a reprieve for mainstream politics which has been rocked in recent years by Britain’s exit from the European Union, the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and the rise of a new generation of nationalist leaders.
“Bravo Emmanuel”, wrote the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, on Twitter. “In this turbulent period, we need a solid Europe and a France that is fully committed to a more sovereign and more strategic European Union.”
Macron will join a small club – only two French presidents before him have managed to secure a second term. But his margin of victory appears to be tighter than when he first beat Le Pen in 2017, underscoring how many French people are unimpressed with him and his national record.
That disillusion was reflected in turnout figures, with major French pollsters saying the abstention rate was likely to be around 28%, the highest since 1969.
Amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Western sanctions that have exacerbated soaring fuel prices, Le Pen’s campaign has focused on the rising cost of living as Macron’s weak point.
She promised deep fuel tax cuts, a zero percent sales tax on essentials, nappies to diapers, income exemptions for young workers and a “French first” stance on the employment and social protection.
Macron meanwhile pointed to her past admiration for Russian Vladimir Putin as showing that she could not be trusted on the world stage, while insisting that she still harbored plans to pull France out of the EU. European Union – what she denies.
In the latter part of the campaign, as he sought support from left-leaning voters, Macron played down an earlier pledge to make the French work longer, saying he was open to discussing plans to raise the tide. retirement age from 62 to 65.
In the end, as evidenced by viewer polls after last week’s heated TV debate between the two, Le Pen’s policy – which included a proposal to ban people from wearing the Muslim headscarf in public – stuck. too extreme for many French people.
Former investment banker Macron’s decision to run for president in 2017 and create his own grassroots movement from scratch has upended old certainties about French politics – something that could come back to bite him in the legislative elections in June.
(Additional reporting by Michel Rose, Leigh Thomas and Gus Trompiz; Writing by Mark John, Richard Lough and Ingrid Melander; Editing by Frances Kerry, Raissa Kasolowsky, Alexandra Hudson)