French President Emmanuel Macron was on track Sunday to win a second term by defeating far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the presidential election, according to projections.
Macron was expected to win 57.0-58.5% of the vote to Le Pen’s 41.5-43.0%, according to projections by French TV polling companies based on a sample of the vote count.
The result is closer than their run-off clash in 2017, when the same two candidates met in the second round and Macron won more than 66% of the vote.
The relatively comfortable margin of victory will nevertheless give Macron some confidence as he heads for a second five-year term, but the election also represents the closest the far right has come to power in France.
A victory for Le Pen, accused by opponents of having close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, would have sent shockwaves around the world comparable to the 2016 polls that led to Brexit in Britain and the EU. election of Donald Trump in the United States.
The result, which is expected to be confirmed by official results overnight, will cause immense relief in Europe after fears that a Le Pen presidency could leave the continent rudderless following Brexit and the departure of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Left-wing European leaders, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, had pleaded with France ahead of the vote to choose Macron over his rival, in an unusual intervention published in Le Monde newspaper.
Macron will be the first French president to be re-elected since Jacques Chirac in 2002 after his predecessors Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande left office after just one term.
The 44-year-old is due to deliver a victory speech on the Champ de Mars in central Paris at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, where flag-waving supporters erupted in delight when the projections appeared at 8 p.m. local time (6:00 p.m. GMT).
Macron hopes for a less complicated second term that will allow him to implement his vision of more business-friendly reform and closer European integration after a first term marked by protests, then the pandemic and finally the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
But he will have to convince those who supported his opponents and the millions of French people who did not bother to vote.
Based on official figures, pollsters estimated the abstention rate was on track at 28%, which, if confirmed, would be the highest in any presidential runoff since 1969. .
The first-round result on April 10 had left Macron, 44, in a strong but not unassailable position to retain the presidency.
Convincing supporters of far-left third candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon to hold their noses and vote for the former investment banker was a key priority for Macron in the second phase of the campaign.
Macron will also need to ensure that his party finds strong grassroots support to keep control of a parliamentary majority in the legislative elections that closely follow the presidential ballot in June and avoid any awkward “cohabitation” with a prime minister who does not share his political opinion. views.
Top of his to-do list is pension reform, including a raise in France’s retirement age which Macron says is essential for the budget but is likely to face strong opposition and to protests.
He will also have to return quickly from the election campaign to deal with the Russian onslaught on Ukraine, with pressure on France to step up arms deliveries to kyiv and signs that President Vladimir Putin is losing interest. of any diplomacy.
For Le Pen, his third defeat in the presidential elections will be a bitter pill to swallow after years of effort to qualify and steer his party away from the legacy of its founder, his father Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Critics have insisted his party has never ceased to be far-right and racist while Macron has repeatedly highlighted his plan to ban the wearing of Muslim headscarves in public if elected.
She has suggested this could be her last campaign and speculation is now expected to mount over the future of her party and France’s far-right, which splintered during the campaign.
When Jean-Marie Le Pen reached the second round in 2002, the result stunned France and he won less than 18% in the second round against Chirac.