For the second time in consecutive elections, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le pen will face off in the second round of French Presidential elections.
France’s elections take part over two rounds. The two candidates who received the most votes in the first rounds continue to the second. Whoever wins the most votes in the second round becomes the new President for a 5-year term.
Polls had predicted the pair would be the two most popular candidates in the first round, and, as expected, centrist Macron came in first with 27.6% of the vote and far-right Le Pen came in second with 23.4%. Left-wing Jean-Luc Mélenchon came in third place, with a respectable 22% of the vote. In the first round of the 2017 presidential election, Macron received 24.0%, Le Pen 21.3%, and Mélenchon 19.6%.
The second round of 2017’s election ended with a clear victory for Macron, with 66.1% of the vote compared to Le Pen’s 33.9%. This time polls put the two candidates far closer, with an expected result somewhere around 51%-49%.
Macron had been accused of not focusing enough on the French election, in light of his focus on the Ukraine crisis, but has vowed to amend that before the second round, which will take place on April 24th. The general election for the National Assembly will follow shortly after in June. It is expected that Macron will focus on portraying Le Pen as an extremist who will divide France with racist policies and sentiment, while pointing toward her good relations with Putin prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine as evidence of her unscrupulousness.
Regarding the first round result, Macron said:
“When the far-right, in all its forms, represents that much in France, you can’t consider things are going well, so you must go out and convince people with a lot of humility, and respect for those who weren’t on our side in this first round.”
“Don’t be mistaken, nothing is decided, and the debate we’ll have in the next two weeks will be decisive for our country and for Europe.”
Marine Le Pen has focused her rhetoric on the cost-of-living crisis, along with trying to soften her image by talking about her love of cats. Anti-immigrant policy does however remain a core tenet of her manifesto, with a hijab ban and a referendum on immigration amongst her plans. One position that she seems to have drastically toned down is regarding the EU; her once central rallying cry, to leave the EU, has been abandoned in favour of a stated desire to reform it.
Le Pen told reporters, following the results:
“The French clearly had to choose between two opposite visions of France. Either division, injustice and disorder. Or they can choose bringing the French together around social justice, protection, fraternity, the nation, and the people.”
“I will be the president of all French, if given that honour. … What will happen [in the second round] will not just be a circumstantial vote, but one reflecting society and civilisation.”
Meanwhile, the two parties which had dominated French Politics prior to 2017 failed to even win enough votes to recoup their election costs. Centre-right Les Républicains’ candidate won only 4.8% of the vote, down more than 15% on their 2017 result, while the candidate for centre-left Parti socialiste won a meagre 1.8%. In order for the French state to cover party elections costs, the party must win at least 5% of votes in the first round. The drastic downwards swing vote-share for Les Républicains has led to them spending far more on their campaign than the €800,000 they will be eligible to claim.
Both candidates will receive additional votes in the second round from the candidates who failed to progress; how those votes are divided will determine who wins the presidency. Macron will face the difficulty that many of Mélenchon’s voters may choose to abstain, whereas voters of the fourth-place candidate, far-right Eric Zemmour, will undoubtedly flock to political neighbour Le Pen.
Candidates who fell short in the first round have been busy endorsing and/or condemning the remaining candidates. Zemmour called for his supporters to vote for Le Pen, while Mélenchon did not go so far as to endorse Macron, instead saying “You must not give a single vote to Marine Le Pen.”
Valérie Pécresse, Les Républicains unsuccessful candidate, said:
“[Le Pen’s] historical proximity with Vladimir Putin discredits her from defending the interests of our country in these tragic times. Her election would mean that France would become irrelevant on the European and international scenes. Therefore, and despite my strong disagreement with Macron … I will vote for him in order to stop Marine Le Pen.”