French elections of 2022: Macron faces Le Pen in the second round

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(PARIS) — Incumbent President Emmanuel Macron will face far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen in a decisive runoff for the French presidency, after they both qualified in the first round of the election on Sunday. of the country to appoint another leader. clash their frankly opposed visions of France.

But while Macron won his last contest in 2017 by a landslide to become France’s youngest president, the same result this time around is far from guaranteed. Macron, now 44, came out on top in Sunday’s first round, but the run-off is essentially another election and the next two weeks of campaigning for the April 24 second-round vote promises to be deadly and divisive. against his political enemy of 53 years. .

Wiser and more polite as she makes her third bid to become France’s first female president, Le Pen was handsomely rewarded at the polls on Sunday for her years-long efforts to rebrand herself as more pragmatic and less extreme. Macron accused Le Pen of pushing an extremist manifesto of racist and ruinous policies. Le Pen wants to roll back certain rights of Muslims, by prohibiting them from wearing the headscarf in public, and drastically reduce immigration from outside Europe.

On Sunday, she racked up her best vote tally in the first round. With most votes counted, Macron had just over 27% and Le Pen just under 24%. Far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon finished third, missing out on the second round of both candidates, by almost 22%.

Macron also improved his performance in the first round in 2017, although his presidency was rocked by an almost relentless series of national and international crises. They include Russia’s war in Ukraine that overshadowed the election and diverted its attention from the campaign.

With polls suggesting the second round against Le Pen could be close, Macron immediately began throwing his energies into the fight.

Addressing supporters on Sunday evening who chanted “five more years”, Macron warned that “nothing is done” and said the second round would be “decisive for our country and for Europe”.

Claiming that Le Pen would align France with “populists and xenophobes”, he said: “It’s not us.”

“I want to reach out to anyone who wants to work for France,” he said. He undertook to “implement the project of progress, openness and French and European independence that we have defended”.

The election result will have wide international influence as Europe struggles to contain the devastation wrought by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Macron strongly supported European Union sanctions against Russia while Le Pen worried about their impact on French living standards. Macron is also a strong supporter of NATO and close collaboration between the 27 members of the European Union.

Macron for months had looked like a shoo-in to become the first French president in 20 years to win a second term. But National Rally leader Le Pen, in a late push, tapped into the main issue that worries many French voters: soaring food, gas and heating prices due to rising inflation and the repercussions of Western sanctions on Russia.

To win in the second round, Macron and Le Pen must now reach out to voters who backed the 10 presidential candidates defeated on Sunday.

For some disappointed supporters of the losers, the second round promises to be agonizing. Melenchon’s voter, Jennings Tangly, a 21-year-old English student at Sorbonne University in Paris, said the second-round match was a terrible prospect for her, a choice “between plague and cholera. “.

She described Macron’s presidency as “abject”, but said she would vote for him in the second round simply to remove Le Pen from the presidential Elysee.

“It would be a vote of survival rather than a vote with my heart,” she said.

Le Pen supporters celebrated with champagne and chanted “We’re going to win!” She sought to reach out to left-wing supporters for the second round by promising solutions for “a France torn apart”.

She said the second round offers voters “a fundamental choice between two opposing visions of the future: Either division, injustice and disorder imposed by Emmanuel Macron for the benefit of the few, or the union of the French around social justice and protection. ”

Some of his defeated rivals were so alarmed by the possibility of Le Pen defeating Macron that they urged their supporters on Sunday to roll their second-round votes over to the incumbent. Mélenchon, addressing supporters who sometimes shed tears, repeated several times: “We must not give a voice to Ms. Le Pen.”

Describing herself as ‘deeply concerned’, defeated conservative candidate Valérie Pécresse warned of ‘the chaos that would ensue’ if Le Pen were elected, saying the far-right leader had never been so close to power . Pecresse said she would vote for Macron in the second round.

To beat Le Pen, Macron will aim to single out his attempted rebrand as a less dangerous political force, a makeover that even highlighted his love of cats.

His softer image won over some voters but made others even more suspicious.

Yves Maillot, a retired engineer, said he voted for Macron only to counterbalance Le Pen. He said he feared his longstanding hostility to the EU could see him trying to get France out of the bloc, even if it removed it from its manifesto.

“I don’t think she’s changed at all,” he said. “It’s the same thing, but with cats.”

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Thomas Adamson, Associated Press reporter. Elaine Ganley and Patrick Hermansen contributed to this report.

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