Only two candidates remain in the race to become France’s next president after voters emphatically knocked out France’s two establishment political parties on Sunday.
With 97 percent of votes counted, centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen emerged as the two front runners for the country’s highest office, according to France’s Interior Ministry.
Macron maintained a slender lead over his opponent on Sunday receiving 23.8 percent of votes, while Le Pen earned 21.4 percent of votes.
Le Pen enters into the second round of voting with nearly 5 percentage points more than did her father in 2002.
Conservative Francois Fillon and far-left militant Jean-Luc Melenchon were nearly tied in third place receiving 19.9 percent and 19.6 percent of votes respectively.
Socialist Benoit Hamon, representing France’s incumbent party, received 6 percent of votes.
How France Voted
Le Pen found most of her support to France’s southern, eastern, and northern regions, while Macron largely took France’s Alpine, centre, and western coastal regions. Macron also won in Paris.
Nearly 47 million people voted on Sunday totaling close to 79 percent participation. During France’s 2012 election, nearly 81 percent of French voters cast their ballot, according to the Interior Ministry.
Sunday’s result eliminates France’s centre-right and centre-left establishment parties from the country’s second round of presidential voting for the first time in 60 years.
Polls Were Accurate
It is also an initial election vote pollsters correctly projected.
Unlike the surprise results last year in the United Kingdom and the election of Donald Trump in the United States, pollsters had for months leading to Sunday’s vote accurately projected the winners of the first round, including third and fourth place.
Pollsters again anticipate Macron to carry the election on May 7 when voters again go to the polls to decide the head-to-head runoff.
A Harris Interactive poll for French M6 television station found 64 percent of voters surveyed would vote for Macron. Le Pen is expected to get 36 percent.
Another poll by Ipsos Sopra Steria predicts Macron will win the presidency earning 62 percent of the vote while Le Pen is slated to get 38 percent.
And an Opinionwall poll Monday finds Macron beating Le Pen 61 to 39 percent.
What Macron Said
Macron, 39, hailed the result as a significant achievement for his nascent En Marche! (Onwards!) political party. The former investment banker has never held elected office and this election is his first foray onto the national scene as the leader of a political party.
“In one year, we have changed the face of French politics,” he said during his victory speech. “I want to be the president of patriots in the face of a threat from nationalists.”
Macron said he would work to revitalise the European Union, build a parliamentary majority “as soon as today” and vows the strength of those rallying behind him will be “key to how I govern.”
He also promised to change the face of France’s government which, he said, has been “incapable of responding to the problems of our country for more than 30 years.”
Starting Sunday he said, “I want to build a majority for a government and for a new transformation,” he said during his victory address. “It will be made up of new faces and new talent in which every man and woman can have a place.”
What Le Pen Said
Le Pen, speaking from her northern base Henin-Beaumont near the Belgian border, said Sunday’s result was historical.
Attempting to become France’s first women president and succeed where her father failed 15 years ago, Le Pen called on all “patriots” to support her. She said France’s survival is at stake in the second leg of the presidential contest.
“This result is historic,” she said addressing her supporters. “It puts on me a huge responsibility to defend the French nation, its unity, its security, its culture, its prosperity and its independence.”
Le Pen has led her campaign against globalisation. Branding her opponent as current President Francois Hollande’s “heir” she urged voters to break the country free from an “arrogant elite.”
“The main thing at stake in this election is the rampant globalisation that is endangering our civilisation.”
Conceding defeat on Sunday, both Hamon and Fillon called on their supporters to rally behind and vote for Macron.
“I know that you’re not expecting a reassembly of the same old world of politicians worn out by a fifth republic which is itself out of breath,” Hamon said. “I therefore call on you to fight as strongly and as powerfully as possible against the National Front, to fight the far-right by voting for Emmanuel Macron.”
Fillon was, at one point in the months leading to Sundays’ vote, the contest’s leading candidate until his campaign was derailed by a jobs scandal involving his wife and children which he couldn’t shake off.
On Sunday Fillon blamed himself for being eliminated.
“Despite all my efforts, despite my determination, I have not been able to convince you,” Fillon said. “The obstacles put in my way were too great, too cruel. When the moment came, the truth of this election will be written. Right now, I take my responsibility. This defeat in mine, and it’s mine and mine alone to bear.”
Markets Show Relief
Markets on Monday reacted positively to Sunday’s result as it suggested an initial break away from populist anti-European sentiment which has swept through Europe.
In morning trading the euro briefly reached five-month peaks while shares rose thanks in part to pollster’s accurate projections leading into the vote and their expectations Macron will win the vote.
Le Pen has suggested during her campaign she would remove France from the euro currency and potentially remove France from the European Union – making markets jittery.
Shortly after results were tabulated Sunday, Macron received the endorsement of both Fillon and Hamon. Both urged their supporters to rally behind the front-runner.
Macron also received the support of former Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who announced he would be ready to work with Macron.
“We must help him (Macron) as much as we can to ensure Le Pen is kept as low down as possible”, Valls said to France Inter Radio.
Both Le Pen and Macron enter a frenzied two weeks of campaigning before the May 7 final vote.
Le Pen’s Front National attacked Macron Monday, calling him disingenuous for hosting his campaign victory announcement at an upscale Parisian restaurant.
“Emmanuel is not a patriot”, said Front Nacional deputy leader Florian Philippot to BFM TV. “He sold off national companies. He criticised French culture.”