Posted on April 24, 2017

French Election: Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen to Fight for Presidency

BBC, April 24, 2017

Emmanuel Macron

Emmanuel Macron (Credit Image: © Visual via ZUMA Press)

Centrist Emmanuel Macron has gone through to the second round of the French election, where he will face far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Mr Macron, a former banker, is seen as a political newcomer – and ran without the backing of an established party.

After topping Sunday’s vote, he is now favourite to win the run-off on 7 May.

It is the first time in six decades that neither of France’s main left-wing or right-wing parties has had a candidate in the second round.

Mr Macron won 23.8% of votes in the first round, while Ms Le Pen took 21.5%. The turnout was high, at almost 79%.

The nearest challengers, centre-right François Fillon and hard-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon, fell behind with just over 19% each.

Francois Fillon

Francois Fillon (Credit Image: © Maxppp via ZUMA Press)

But several political rivals are now expected to unite behind Mr Macron in the run-off vote, in a bid to keep Ms Le Pen’s Front National (FN) from power.

At 39, Mr Macron could become the youngest president France has ever had – and the first president in the Fifth Republic who does not belong to a major party.

He secured 8.4 million votes – more than any other candidate – in the first round.

Mr Macron was current President Francois Hollande’s economy minister but quit to create his own party, En Marche, which pushes a liberal, pro-EU agenda.

His campaign promises include:

  • A €50bn (£43bn; $53bn) public investment plan to cover job-training, exit from coal and shift to renewable energy, infrastructure and modernisation
  • Big cut in corporation tax and more leeway for companies to renegotiate 35-hour working week
  • Cut in jobless rate to 7% (now 9.7%)
  • Ban on mobile phone use in schools for under-15s and a €500 culture pass for 18 year olds

In a victory speech to supporters, Mr Macron borrowed language favoured by his rival to describe himself as the patriotic choice for France.

“I hope that in a fortnight I will become your president. I want to become the president of all the people of France – the president of the patriots in the face of the threat from the nationalists,” he said.

Ms Le Pen took over the FN leadership from her father in January 2011 and helped her party secure big gains in regional elections.

Marine Le Pen Campaigns In Metz

Marine Le Pen
(Credit Image: © Maxppp via ZUMA Press)

She won 7.6 million votes on Sunday – the strongest ever result for a FN candidate, and 2.8 million more than her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, won for the FN in 2002.

Her party wants to slash immigration, clamp down on free trade, and overturn France’s relationship with Europe.

Her campaign has called for:

  • Negotiation with Brussels on a new EU, followed by a referendum
  • “Automatic” expulsion of illegal immigrants and legal immigration cut to 10,000 per year following an immediate total moratorium
  • “Extremist” mosques closed and priority to French nationals in social housing
  • Retirement age fixed at 60 and 35-hour week assured

Following the first round results, Ms Le Pen made an “appeal to all patriots”, saying a vote for her was the key to the “survival of France”.

“Wherever they come from, whatever their origin, whatever they voted for in the first round, I invite them all to join us and to abandon ancient quarrels and to concentrate on what is essential for our country,” she said.

Correspondents say the next head of state is almost certain to be Mr Macron, as most other parties are now backing him.

But Mr Macron may struggle to get enough of his candidates elected to parliament – where more established parties, such as the Republicans and the Socialists, currently have the most seats.

Without a majority, Mr Macron would have to negotiate to have his policies approved through the assembly – which could be challenging.

Benoît Hamon, the candidate of President Hollande’s Socialist Party who failed to make an impact in the first round, urged those who voted for him to support Mr Macron in the next stage. Mr Fillon has done the same.

However, Mr Mélenchon has not endorsed either candidate yet.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon

Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Credit Image: © Maxppp via ZUMA Press)

Some voters are unhappy with both candidates – hundreds took part in “anti-fascist, anti-capitalist” protests on Sunday night, opposing both Ms Le Pen and Mr Macron.

Some demonstrators set cars on fire and broke shop windows – police said 143 people were arrested.

Analysts and world leaders have been watching the election closely – after the Brexit vote in the UK and election of US President Donald Trump challenged liberal values and the political establishment.

Many European leaders are now congratulating Mr Macron on the first round results – as they are keen to strengthen the union after Brexit.

Mr Macron addressed the nation in front of an EU flag as the results came in – something noticed by both pro and anti-EU politicians.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffan Seibert, tweeted: “It’s good that Emmanuel Macron was successful with his course for a strong EU and social market economy. All the best for the next two weeks.”

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also congratulated him, as did EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

“The result is the hope and future of our generation,” she tweeted.

Anti-EU politicians, on the other hand, have congratulated Ms Le Pen for making the second round.

Dutch MP Geert Wilders, who leads the anti-immigration Freedom Party, said the results were a “bright day for patriots in France and elsewhere who want more national sovereignty and less EU and immigration”.