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4/23/17

France: Macron 23.9% faces Le Pen 21.7 % for French presidency as mainstream parties bow out early

Macron wins first round - Runoff May 7
If Macron tops the first round – his score two hours after polls closed was estimated at 23.9 percent, 2.2 points up on the populist Le Pen, according to estimates by the Ipsos firm – it would somewhat salvage France’s reputation in Europe after the Europhobe Le Pen had topped polls for months before figures tightened down the stretch. If he doesn’t, Europhiles will have to be content with the fact that the other Europhobe in this race, the far-leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, monsieur momentum in the final days, did not advance to a showdown with Le Pen that would have spelled almost certain existential crisis for the European Union.

Le Pen matches her father’s achievement in 2002, when National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen shocked the country by making the run-off with 16.86 percent of the vote. But the younger Le Pen’s performance, far from a surprise, is a radically different exploit. Initial estimates show she has reached the second round with nearly five points more than Le Pen père scored 15 years ago and with a much higher estimated voter turnout.

Moreover, the senior Le Pen found himself pitted against incumbent president, former prime minister, and former Paris mayor Jacques Chirac in the 2002 run-off, eventually losing by a landslide 82.2 percent to 17.7 percent. This time, Marine Le Pen faces a neophyte politician in the 39-year-old Macron. The latter served as an Élysée Palace advisor and economy minister under unpopular outgoing Socialist President François Hollande, but he has never been elected to any post.

Polls have universally put Macron well ahead of Le Pen in surveys testing a run-off between the pair, but the vote on May 7 is likely to be considerably closer than the 2002 final. A Harris Interactive poll released Sunday night after the first round showed Macron scoring 64 percent ahead of the run-off to Le Pen’s 36 percent. A Cevipof poll released Wednesday put Macron at 61 percent to Le Pen’s 39 percent. Another poll this week, by the Elabe firm, put him at 62 percent.

But the result sets up a duel that Marine Le Pen will likely relish: the opportunity to wield her anti-establishment rhetoric against a former investment banker who attended two of France’s elite schools (Paris’s Institute of Political Studies -- Sciences Po Paris -- and the Ecole Nationale d’Administration, which trains the country’s top public servants) and who rose to power as the protégé of the unpopular Socialist Hollande.

The two run-off candidates will present French voters with stark choices, not least with regard to the European Union. The Europhile Macron, who won an explicit endorsement from German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble before the first round, faces Le Pen, who wants to re-establish France’s national borders and whose programme calls for a referendum on France’s membership in the bloc.

"I want to be the president of the patriots against the threat of nationalists," Macron told cheering supporters after Sunday's vote.

Read more: Macron faces Le Pen for French presidency as mainstream parties bow out early - France 24

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