Macron set to face Le Pen in runoff for French presidency
President Emmanuel Macron is set to face his nationalist rival Marine Le Pen in the final round of the French election, according to projections by polling companies after Sunday’s initial ballot.
Macron got around 29% of the vote compared with about 24% for Le Pen, according to pollsters’ projections based on partial results. Far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon was third with around 20%.
The two leading candidates will go forward to a runoff on April 24 in a re-run of their 2017 contest to decide who will lead Europe’s second-biggest economy.
A late surge in support for Le Pen has focused attention on French political risk and investors will be watching closely over the next two weeks for signs that the 44-year-old president can consolidate his advantage. The yield on France’s 10-year bonds rose to a seven-year high last week on concerns at the prospect of a nationalist with longstanding sympathies for Russia taking power in the middle of the Ukraine war.
For Le Pen, 53, the projections suggest a record result that would cement her position as leader of the far-right in France and continue the movement’s advance that began under her father 20 years ago. They also show the deep divisions that surfaced when they last faced off five years ago have only gotten worse.
Even if Macron is re-elected, he will face clear challenges in pushing through his economic and social reforms and may struggle to defend his majority in the legislative elections scheduled for June.
Both candidates have benefited from the impotence of the center-left Socialist Party and the center-right Republicans, which imploded when Macron emerged to dominate the political center five years ago.
Le Pen has demonstrated resilience during this election, but she was also directly helped by rival Eric Zemmour, a former TV pundit convicted three times for hate speech, who made her appear more moderate. He came fourth with about 7%
Macron only started campaigning about a week ago. After Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, he shifted his focus away from domestic politics to international affairs, casting himself as a statesmanlike figure in turbulent times. But as voter concern that the war would engulf the entire region began to fade, so did the ground swell of support that had pushed Macron’s popularity to 51%.
By the time Macron turned his attention to the election, Le Pen had cast herself as the defender of the ordinary people and framed Macron’s reputation as the “president of the rich.”
A lot now depends on the presidential debate set for April 20.
Le Pen is known for her disastrous performance when confronting Macron during the 2017 campaign and has been working with advisers to ensure she’s better prepared this time around. But the president is a formidable opponent, known for his photographic memory and ability to avoid hard questions with long, convoluted answers.
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