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French Presidential Elections: Macron and Le Pen win first round

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For background on the elections and the candidates, see our previous article.

The French presidential election process has begun, with a global turnout estimated at 77%, slightly down from 2012’s 79.48%.

Emmanuel Macron led the polls with 23.77% of votes, an impressive feat considering the candidate’s young age (39) and lack of political experience compared to his opponents. Moreover, his centrist political party En Marche! was created only a year ago.

Far-right FN candidate Marine le Pen finished second with 21.7% of votes, a considerable increase from the 17.9% she received at the 2012 elections.

It is thought that Thursday’s terrorist attacks in Paris - which resulted in the tragic death of policeman Xavier Jugelé - may have given a slight boost to her results. The last time the FN went to the second round was in 2002, and those results are proof of an increased populist sentiment in France, no doubt invigorated by the Trump and Brexit victories.

The centre-right Les Républicains candidate, François Fillon, obtained 19.98% of the votes. A few months ago, he was largely seen as a frontrunner, but this changed after a series of political scandals. He has endorsed Macron for the second round, stating that the FN “has a history known for its violence and intolerance”.

Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon - compared to Bernie Sanders for his very liberal policies - had a surprise surge in the poll in the last few weeks, and obtained 19.4% of votes. This marks a large increase from the 11.10% he received in 2012.

Centre-left candidate Benoît Hamon (from incumbent President François Hollande’s party) finished the race with a disappointing 6.29%. Previously one of the frontrunners, he was largely overshadowed by other leftist candidate Mélenchon in the past few weeks and shrank in the polls. Like Fillon, he has since endorsed Macron for the second round, calling Le Pen “an enemy of the Republic.”

This historical election marks the first time in the Fifth Republic that France will not have a centre-right or centre-left President, which only confirms the wave of change that is happening in politics worldwide. French citizens will go back to the polls on May 7th to elect François Hollande’s successor. Current opinions have Macron in a comfortable victory over Le Pen, by raking Mélenchon’s, Hamon’s and a good part of Fillon’s supporters.

The Macron and Le Pen wins both epitomise a rejection of the ruling political class – Les Républicains and FN - in France. Furthermore, the two candidates represent two different Frances: Macron is pro-Europe and pro-globalisation, while Le Pen’s forefront campaign message was a promise to “keep France for the French”. An FN win will no doubt have a resounding global impact, with many calling the party’s potential win the end of the EU. On the other hand, a victory for Macron would bring many much-needed hope that populism is not spreading ubiquitously, and that the EU still has a future ahead. 

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