French President Emmanuel Macron appeared comfortably re-elected in a runoff on Sunday, according to polling agencies, offering France and the European Union assurances of leadership stability in the bloc’s only nuclear power as the continent is grappling with the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
A second five-year term for Macron – if confirmed by official results later on Sunday – would spare France and its allies in Europe and beyond the seismic upheaval of a wartime transfer of power to Macron’s far-right nationalist challenger Marine Le Pen, who quickly conceded defeat.
His campaign had pledged to dilute France’s ties with the EU27, the NATO military alliance and Germany, moves that would have undermined Europe’s security architecture as the continent struggles. facing its worst conflict since World War II. Le Pen has also spoken out against sanctions on Russian energy supplies and has come under scrutiny during the campaign due to her previous friendship with the Kremlin.
Polling agency projections, released as the last polls closed, said Macron was on track to beat Le Pen by a double-digit margin. Five years ago, Macron won a landslide victory over Le Pen to become France’s youngest president at 39. The margin should be much smaller this time: polling agencies Opinionway, Harris and Ifop projected that the 44-year-old pro-European centrist would win at least 57% of the vote.
Le Pen is expected to garner between 41.5% and 43% support – still an unprecedented result for the 53-year-old in her third bid to win the French presidency.
Le Pen called his results “a resounding victory”, saying that “in this defeat, I can’t help but feel a form of hope”.
She and far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who came third in the first round of voting on April 10 and was among 10 presidential candidates eliminated that day, quickly contested the French legislative elections. of June, urging voters to give them a parliamentary majority to cripple Macron.
The first official results are expected later Sunday evening.
If projections hold, Macron would become just the third president since the founding of modern France in 1958 to win twice at the polls, and the first in 20 years since incumbent Jacques Chirac beat Le Pen’s father. in 2002.
Le Pen’s score this time rewarded his year-long efforts to make his far-right policies more palatable to voters. By campaigning fiercely on cost-of-living issues, she made deep inroads among blue-collar voters, in disgruntled rural communities and former industrial hubs.
Crossing the threshold of 40% or more of the vote is unprecedented for the French far right. Le Pen was beaten 66% to 34% by Macron in 2017. And her father got less than 20% against Chirac.
Several hundred Macon supporters gathered in front of the Eiffel Tower, singing the national anthem and waving French and European flags as television stations broadcast early projections of his victory.
Still. the projected drop in support for Macron from five years ago indicates what should be an uphill battle for the president to rally the people behind him in his second term.
Many French voters found the 2022 rematch less compelling than in 2017, when Macron was an unknown factor, having never previously held elected office.
Voters on the left – unable to identify with either the centrist president or Le Pen’s fiercely nationalist platform – were often angst-ridden by Sunday’s picks. Some reluctantly went to polling stations only to arrest Le Pen, happily voting for Macron.
“It was the least worst choice,” said Stephanie David, a transportation logistics worker who backed a communist candidate in the first round.
It was an impossible choice for retired Jean-Pierre Roux. Having also voted communist in the first round, he dropped an empty envelope into the ballot box on Sunday, rebuffed by both Le Pen’s politics and what he saw as Macron’s arrogance.
“I’m not against his ideas but I can’t stand the person,” Roux said.
Marian Arbre, voting in Paris, voted for Macron “to avoid a government that ends up with fascists, racists”.
“There is a real risk,” worries the 29-year-old.
Macron came to the vote with a considerable lead in the polls, but unable to be sure of victory for a fractured, anxious and tired electorate. The war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic challenged Macron’s first term, as did months of violent protests against his economic policies. The upheavals created fertile ground for Le Pen.
With the EU’s only seat on the UN Security Council and the only nuclear arsenal, France’s outcome was watched across the 27-nation bloc as it grappled with the fallout from the war in Ukraine .
France has played a leading role in international efforts to sanction Russia and provides weapons systems to Ukraine.
Earlier in the day, Le Pen voted in the northern town of Henin-Beaumont, in France’s beleaguered former industrial heartland, while Macron voted in the Channel resort town of Le Touquet.
Appealing to working-class voters struggling with soaring prices, Le Pen vowed that lowering the cost of living would be her priority if elected. She argued that Macron’s presidency had left the country deeply divided, pointing to the yellow vest protest movement that rocked his government before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Macron has sought to appeal to voters with immigrant and religious backgrounds, not least because of Le Pen’s proposed policies targeting Muslims and putting French citizens first in line for jobs and benefits.
Macron also touted his environmental and climate achievements to seek out young voters who backed left-wing candidates in the first round. Macron has said his next prime minister will be in charge of environmental planning as France seeks to become carbon neutral by 2050.
John Leicester at Le Pecq, Michel Spingler at Henin-Beaumont and Alex Turnbull at Le Touquet contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the French elections on https://apnews.com/hub/french-election-2022