Centrist Macron vs far-right Le Pen
Centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right populist Marine Le Pen advanced yesterday to a runoff in France's presidential election, remaking the country's political landscape and setting up a showdown over its participation in the European Union.
French politicians on the left and right immediately urged voters to block Le Pen's path to power in the May 7 runoff, saying that her virulently nationalist anti-EU and anti-immigration politics would spell disaster for France.
"Extremism can only bring unhappiness and division to France," defeated conservative candidate FranÁois Fillon said. "As such, there is no other choice than to vote against the extreme right."
The selection of Le Pen and Macron presented voters with the starkest possible choice between two diametrically opposed visions of the EU's future and France's place in it. It set up a battle between Macron's optimistic vision of a tolerant France and a united Europe with open borders against Le Pen's darker, inward-looking platform that called for closed borders, tougher security, less immigration, and dropping the shared euro currency to return to the French franc.
With Le Pen wanting France to leave the EU and Macron wanting even closer cooperation among the bloc's 28 nations, Sunday's outcome meant the May 7 runoff will have undertones of a referendum on France's EU membership.
The absence in the runoff of candidates from either the mainstream left Socialists or the right-wing Republicans party - the two main political groups that have governed post-war France - also marked a seismic shift in French politics. Macron, a 39-year-old investment banker, made the runoff on the back of a grass-roots campaign without the support of a major political party.
With 75 per cent of the vote counted, the Interior Ministry said that Macron had just over 23 per cent of the vote with Le Pen slightly behind with just under 23 per cent. Fillon had just under 20 per cent support, and the far-left's Jean-Luc Melenchon had just under 19 per cent.