Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will face each other in the second round of the presidential election on Sunday May 7th after the two finished neck-and-neck in the first round of voting. With votes still to be counted, there are slight discrepancies in the final percentage, but according to a Harris Interactive exit poll in Le Figaro, Macron and Le Pen both finished on 22 per cent. An Ipsos exit poll for BFMTV had Macron on 23.7 per cent and the National Front leader on 21.7 per cent. ‘We have today clearly turned a page in the French political life!’ declared a jubilant Macron.
At first, there was no word from Marine Le Pen, who was with her constituents in the northern French town of Henin-Beaumont. But her niece and NF MP, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, tweeted: ‘It's a great victory for all patriots!’
At last, Marine spoke: ‘This is the first step to take me to the Élysée,’ she said, to her cheering supporters. ‘From now on I have a huge responsibility of defending the French nation...the time has come to liberate France from the arrogant people who want to dictate to them. Because I am the candidate of the French people.’
It was also very tight behind the frontrunners with the far-left's Jean-Melenchon and the centre-right's Francois Fillon level on 19 per cent in one exit poll. It was, however, a humiliating election for the ruling Socialist party with their candidate, Benoit Hamon trailing in fifth, with just 6.5 per cent of the vote.
The results are a stunning upset in French politics and the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic that neither of the two main parties has reached the second round of the presidential election.
Speaking on French television shortly after the results were announced François Bayrou, the veteran politician who joined Macron's En Marche! party earlier this year, called on the people to rally to the centrist candidate in a fortnight's time, saying theirs was the party for ‘all those who are profoundly attached to the values which make us live together’.
As expected the political class representing the beaten parties have been quick to declare their support for Macron. Benoît Hamon, having declared that ‘the left is not dead’, then asked his followers to ‘beat us strongly as possible’ the National Front.
There was a similar message from Francois Fillon, whose political career must now be at an end. ‘There is no other choice than to vote against the extreme right,’ said the 63-year-old former prime minister whose campaign was ruined by financial scandals.
There were also calls for the country to unite behind the 39-year-old Macron from Bernard Cazeneuve, the Socialist Prime Minister, and François Baroin, a close ally of Fillon's.
Speaking on French television, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen laughed off the messages of solidarity pouring in for Macron, saying his En Marche! party is ‘going to recycle the socialist barons’.
Despite fears of large-scale abstentions, with such pre-election polls suggesting it might be as high as 40 per cent, the numbers of voters was better than expected with a participation of 69.4 per cent, only slightly down on the 2012 election.
But fears of disorder in Paris in the event of a National Front success have been realised with reports of clashes between the police and several hundred anti-fascist demonstrators who had gathered earlier in the evening at the Place de la Bastille. The police have used tear gas to disperse some of the crowd after they came under attack from firecrackers and other missiles.