French campaign begins in earnest after Macron, Le Pen win first round

By Conal Urquhart in London ( China Daily UK ) Updated: 2017-04-25 00:24:11

Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen started campaigning in earnest after winning through to the second round of the French presidential election,which will be held on May 7.

Le Pen, the leader of the anti-immigrant Front National, told reporters that her opponent, the leader of the centrist 1-year-old En Marche party, was weak on Islamist terrorism.

“Mr Macron has no project to protect the French people in the face of Islamist dangers,” she said.

Macron held his fire, encouraged by opinion polls that suggest he will win by 61 percent to 39.

The French stock exchange and the euro surged after the result became clear on Monday morning.

It was the first time that neither the Socialist nor Republican parties had made it to the second round since 1958. While that represents a major change in the political landscape, European leaders and markets were reassured by the performance of Macron.

He polled 23.8 percent to Le Pen’s 21.5 percent. Francois Fillon, an early favorite, had 19.9 percent, followed by the left-winger Jean-Luc Melenchon with 19.6 per cent and the Socialist Party’s Benoit Haman with 6.4 percent. There were six other candidates.

As the results emerged, all the main contenders, except Melenchon, urged their supporters to back Macron against Le Pen.

Macron could be the youngest leader of France since Napoleon Bonaparte. The 39-year old formed the En Marche party one year ago and it has no deputies in French Parliament.

If Macron becomes president, his next battle will be to get enough deputies elected to Parliament in June to help him govern, although his party is well-placed to lead a coalition.

The choice for French voters is quite clear. Le Pen seeks to leave international alliances, such as the European Union and NATO, and looks for domestic solutions to terrorism and unemployment, such as restricting migration and protecting French industry from competition.

Macron is an internationalist who sees strength in alliances and wants French borders kept open to trade and migration. Both candidates will fight to identify themselves as the most patriotic and French of the two.

Le Pen’s result is a qualified victory for the Front National. She did much better than in the 2012 presidential elections and was far more successful than her father when he came second in 2002.

If the presidency is beyond her, Le Pen and her party will aim to significantly increase their representation in Parliament in June. The Front National currently has only two deputies out of 577 in Parliam

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