Pro-businesses Emmanuel Macron finished first out of 11 contenders in the first round of French presidential election on Sunday, but narrowly ahead of the populist Marine Le Pen, in a tight race that unprecedentedly eliminated mainstream political parties.
Defeating traditional right and left parties, Macron, a novice, collected between 23-24 percent of the votes compared to Marine Le Pen’s 21-22 percent, according to exit polls.
Conservative Francois Fillon and far-left Jean-Luc Melenchon were neck and neck in the third place of 19 percent.
Seven other candidates, including the ruling Socialist party’s Benoit Hamon, are lagging far behind.
With no major political party on his back, 39-year-old Macron, the youngest contender launched his own bid last year betting on a multiform platform aimed at courting votes from different political views.
The former investment banker and economy minister, not on the radar two years ago, is boosting his chances to become France’s youngest president in the country’s modern history.
In his campaign, he said he wants to reshape the country’s political landscape by proposing progressive projects “to pull France into the 21st century.”
“In one year, we have changed the face of French politics,” Macron told supporters who chanted “We will win.”
“The challenge is to open a new page of our political life and to act so that everyone can find a place in France and in Europe,” he said.
Pro-liberal market Macron proposed a mix of public spending and investment in innovative sectors to inject dynamism in French economy and create more jobs.
He pleaded for stronger “Europe that protects.”
RALLYING BEHIND MACRON
Losing no time, candidates of defeated parties, members of Socialist government and conservative politicians who didn’t make it through to the second round, invited voters to back Macron to dash Le Pen’s hope to become France’s first far-rightist head of state.
“This defeat is mine and it is for me and me alone to bear it,” said Fillon, the one-time favorite to win the election until a fake job scandal threw his bid out of the track earlier this year.
“In the meantime, we have to choose what’s best for our country. There is no other choice but to vote against the far right, I will vote for Emmanuel Macron,” he said.
Hamon, who failed to maintain the ruling Socialists in power for a second term, said: “Without hesitation, as far as I’m concerned, we must unite behind Emmanuel Macron.”
Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve called for “a clear and strong position of all Republicans,” to throw a spanner at Le Pen who is vying to occupy the Elysee Palace for the next five years.
EUROSKEPTIC LE PEN
Portraying herself “the candidate of people,” Le Pen hailed “a historic result” on Sunday which she described as “an act of people’s pride.”
With a hard line on immigration in Europe, 48-year-old Le Pen promised to protect French citizens against “savage globalization”, and “to defend the French nation its unity, its security, its culture, its prosperity and its independence.”
The euroskeptic pledged to slash migration, impose taxes on foreigners’ job contracts, return to the local currency and restore internal borders.
Relieved by the preliminary result with centrist candidate Macron taking a lead over euroskeptic Le Pen, the euro rose sharply on Monday with over 2 percent from Friday.
According to Harris Interactive, an on-line poll for M6 television, 64 percent of 2,684 interviewed people would vote for Macron against 36 percent supporting Le Pen in the runoff scheduled for May 7.
“Macron is today a possible winner by default as the right-wing candidate is handicapped by corruption and nepotism and the left is divided between two candidates,” Thomas Guenole, political scientist and professor at Sciences Po university told Xinhua in a recent interview.
Macron and Le Pen will conduct a series of campaign rallies and a face-to-face television debate scheduled before the run-off. Enditem