© Reuters. Official campaign posters of French presidential candidates Marine le Pen, leader of the French right-wing extremist party National Rally (Rassemblement National), and French President Emmanuel Macron, candidate for his re-election, are displayed on an official
By Mimosa Spencer, Juliette Jabkhiro and Layli Foroudi
PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday defeated his right-wing extremist rival Marine Le Pen by a comfortable margin, securing another term and rejecting what would have been a political earthquake.
Cheers erupted as the results surfaced on a giant screen at the Champ de Mars park at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, where Macron supporters waved French and EU flags. People hugged each other and shouted “Macron”.
In contrast, an assembly of dejected Le Pen supporters erupted in buh and whistle in a sprawling reception hall on the outskirts of Paris.
Le Pen admitted defeat but promised to continue the fight with the June parliamentary elections in mind.
“I will never give up the French,” she said to supporters, shouting “Marine! Marine!”
Projections from the first polls showed that Macron secured about 57-58% of the vote. Such estimates are usually accurate, but can be fine-tuned as official results come in from across the country during the evening.
But Macron can expect little or no standstill period after many, especially on the left, only reluctantly voted for him to block the far right from winning. Protests that marred part of his first term could quickly erupt again as he tries to push for pro-business reforms.
“We do not want to ruin the victory … but (Le Pens) National Rally has its highest score ever,” Health Minister Olivier Veran told BFM TV.
“There will be continuity in government policy because the president has been re-elected. But we have also heard the message of the French people,” he added, promising change.
A first major challenge will be the parliamentary elections in June, and opposition parties on the left and right will immediately launch a major push to try to vote in a parliament and a government that is against Macron.
Philippe Lagrue, 63, technical director at a theater in Paris, said earlier in the day that he had voted for Macron after voting for hard-line left-winger Jean-Luc Melenchon in the first round.
He said he would vote for Melenchon again in June. “Melenchon’s Prime Minister. That would be funny. Macron would be sorry, but that’s the point.”
Ifop, Elabe, OpinionWay and Ipsos pollsters expected a 57.6-58.2% victory for Macron.
Victory for the centrist, pro-European Union Macron was immediately hailed by Allies as a pretext for mainstream politics, which has been shaken in recent years by Britain’s exit from the European Union, the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and the emergence of A new generation of nationalist leaders.
“Bravo Emmanuel,” wrote European Council President Charles Michel on Twitter (NYSE :). “In this turbulent period, we need a solid Europe and a France that is fully committed to a more sovereign and more strategic EU.”
Macron wants to join a small club – only two French presidents before him have managed to secure another term. But his margin of victory seems to be narrower than when he first beat Le Pen in 2017, underscoring how many Frenchmen are still not impressed with him and his home record.
This disillusionment was reflected in the turnout figures, with France’s main polling institutes saying the number of omissions was likely to be around 28%, the highest since 1969.
In light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent Western sanctions that have exacerbated a rise in fuel prices, Le Pen’s campaign took on the rising cost of living as Macron’s weak point.
She promised sharp reductions in fuel taxes, zero percent sales tax on essential goods from pasta to diapers, income exemptions for young workers and a “French first” attitude to jobs and welfare.
Macron, meanwhile, pointed to her earlier admiration for Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who showed she could not be trusted on the world stage, while insisting she still had plans to pull France out of the EU – something she denies.
In the latter part of the campaign, as he sought the support of left-wing voters, Macron downplayed an earlier promise to get the French to work longer and said he was open to discussion of plans to raise the retirement age from 62 to 65.
In the end, as viewer surveys after last week’s violent TV debate between the two witnesses, Le Pen’s policy – which included a proposal to ban people from wearing Muslim headscarves in public – remained too extreme for many French people.
The former commercial banker Macron’s decision to run for president in 2017 and create his own grassroots movement from scratch put an end to the old certainties of French politics – something that may come back and bite him in the June parliamentary elections.