Projected results in the first part of presidential race put centrist leader on 27.6% and far-right candidate on 23.4%
France faces a brutal two-week campaign over the country’s future, as the centrist incumbent, Emmanuel Macron, faces the far-right Marine Le Pen for the presidency, positioning himself as a pro-European “progressive” against what he calls her anti-Muslim, nationalist programme and “complacency” about Vladimir Putin.
Macron topped Sunday’s first round of the French presidential election with 27.6% of the vote, ahead of Le Pen’s 23.4%, according to initial projected results by Ipsos for France Télévisions.
He scored higher than his result in the first round five years ago, and clearly gained support in the final hours of the campaign after his harsh warnings to voters to hold back the far-right and protect France’s place on the international diplomatic stage amid the war in Ukraine.
But Le Pen’s score was also higher than five years ago. She had steadily gained support after campaigning hard on the cost of living crisis and inflation, which had become voters’ biggest concern. French election 2022: Projected result and latest vote talliesRead more
All major candidates, except for the far-right TV pundit Éric Zemmour, immediately called for the French people to vote tactically to keep out Le Pen in the second round.
Macron told reporters: “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.”
He told supporters: “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”.
In her own triumphant speech, Le Pen sought to capitalise on anti-Macron feelings after the gilets Jaunes (yellow vests) anti-government protests and styled him as divisive and polarising. She said the final round would be “a fundamental choice between two opposing visions of society”, which she saw as Macron’s “division and disorder” or her promise for “social justice” to protect “society and civilisation”. She called on “all those who did not vote for Macron” to join her.
The hard-left Mélenchon came in third, with a higher-than-forecast 22% of the vote, cementing his leading position on the left after campaigning on the cost of living and transforming the presidential system.
As the contest began on Sunday night for both Macron and Le Pen to vacuum up support from the smaller candidates, the choice of Mélenchon’s voters is now key. Mélenchon immediately gave a speech in Paris shouting three times: “Do not give a single vote to Marine Le Pen!” to huge cheers.
The majority of his leftwing supporters five years ago opted to vote for Macron in the second round simply to keep out Le Pen. But polls this time have suggested that a number of them may be tempted to vote Le Pen in protest against Macron.
Zemmour – who holds convictions for incitement to racial hatred and ran as an outsider on an inflammatory, anti-immigration platform – came fourth with 7.1% of the vote – lower than he had hoped. He immediately called for his voters to back Le Pen.
The biggest shock of the night was the very low score of Valérie Pécresse, the candidate for Nicolas Sarkozy’s traditional rightwing party Les Républicains. She was projected to take less than 5% – a poor showing that is likely to lead to the implosion of her party in favour of its hardliners. This could leave France in a unique position in Europe of not having a traditional mainstream right.
In a speech to supporters, Pécresse 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.”
The decline of the traditional parties of government was confirmed by the Socialist party’s candidate and mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, who took only 2% of the vote. The Greens’ Yannick Jadot scored 4.4% despite the environment being among French voters’ top concerns.
The second round on 24 April will now be a replay of Macron and Le Pen’s last bruising election encounter in 2017. But the stakes are much higher than when Macron easily beat Le Pen with 66% of the vote, which was seen as a victory against populist politics after Donald Trump’s election to the US White House and Britain’s vote to leave the EU.
Macron conceded on the campaign trail he had not managed to calm voters’ concerns about immigration or hold back the “fears” that led people to vote for extremes. Polls over the last week have shown Le Pen as high as 49% for the potential runoff. For the first time, the figures are in the margin of error and give Le Pen the mathematical chance of winning.
For the first time, Le Pen is able to benefit from a reservoir of transferable votes in the second round. About 80% of the votes for Zemmour are now expected to transfer to Le Pen.
Turnout was lower than five years ago, but higher than the record low in 2002 – with abstention forecast at about 26%.Advertisement
Macron is now seeking to be the first French president to win a second term in 20 years despite a mood of pessimism and disillusionment with politics in France. He entered the race late and said repeatedly he did not have the ability to campaign fully because he was occupied on diplomacy over the war in Ukraine and phone calls to Putin and the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Macron’s election platform includes gradually raising the retirement age to 65, which is unpopular and controversial, as well as centralising the benefits system and making unemployed people on certain forms of benefits undertake 15 to 20 hours of activity a week.
He has defended his in-office record saying unemployment was at its lowest in 15 years and promising he could bring full employment. He argued he was the European leader who had done the most to lessen the impact of inflation on households, but on campaign walkabout, he was greeted with angry shouts from people complaining they could not make ends meet.
Le Pen’s radical, far-right anti-immigration platform would involve banning the Muslim headscarf from all public places, including the street. But by focusing on families’ difficulties in making ends meet she managed to neutralise historical fears about her party. This month she became France’s second favourite political personality, behind the former prime minister Édouard Philippe.
Le Pen’s campaign material, which was printed before the war in Ukraine, still featured a picture of her smiling with Putin who she met in 2017. But her swift condemnation of the invasion succeeded in drawing voters’ attention away from her previous pro-Russia stances.