Election in France: Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen should face each other in the second round

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Projections for Sunday’s French presidential election showed President Emmanuel Macron and his main rival Marine Le Pen as the main candidates in the first round before qualifying for a second round later this month.

If confirmed by official results, the election would see the same pair of candidates as in 2017, when Macron beat Le Pen by a landslide to become France’s youngest president in modern history.

This time around, however, the results should be much tighter.

A woman touches the presidential campaign poster of French President Emmanuel Macron during the first round of the French presidential election, in Strasbourg, eastern France, Sunday April 10, 2022.
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A woman touches the presidential campaign poster of French President Emmanuel Macron during the first round of the French presidential election, in Strasbourg, eastern France, Sunday April 10, 2022.
(AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

Projections show Macron with a comfortable first-round lead on Sunday of between 27% and 29% support, ahead of Le Pen, who is expected to garner 23% to 24% of the vote. But that gap could narrow as the country nears the second round of elections on April 24.

Macron, who is asking France’s 48 million voters for a second five-year term, has cast himself as a centrist, seeking to modernize the economy and strengthen European cooperation against nationalist Le Pen. But he faced 11 other candidates and widespread voter anger and apathy.

Le Pen, meanwhile, tapped into the main issue on the minds of many voters: the skyrocketing cost of living amid the disruptions of the war in Ukraine and the economic repercussions of Western sanctions on Russia.

A victory for Macron would be experienced as a defeat for European populists. It also might not be applauded in the Kremlin: Macron has strongly supported European Union sanctions against Russia, while Le Pen has publicly expressed concern about their impact on French living standards.

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Among the 27 members of the EU, France is the only one to have a nuclear arsenal and a right of veto in the UN Security Council. He helped shape Europe’s response to the Russian military assault on Ukraine. Macron is the only candidate for the French presidency to fully support the NATO military alliance.

Yet his popularity has been hampered by his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and his Ukrainian diplomacy. A reform-minded technocrat, he’s been dogged by the “loof” label for years.

The top two voters in Sunday’s election advance to a deciding second round on April 24 – unless a candidate secures more than half of the national vote on Sunday, which has never happened before in France.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen arrives to vote in the first round of the presidential election at a polling station on Sunday April 10, 2022 in Hénin-Beaumont, northern France.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen arrives to vote in the first round of the presidential election at a polling station on Sunday April 10, 2022 in Hénin-Beaumont, northern France.
(AP Photo/Michel Pinler)

For months, Macron looked like he would become the first French president in 20 years to win a second term. But National Rally leader Le Pen gnawed away at his lead in the polls in the latter stages of the campaign, as the pain of rising gas, food and energy prices became a dominant electoral theme for many low-income households.

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But pollsters suggest just a few percentage points could separate Macron and Le Pen on Sunday. If this scenario emerges from the first round of voting, the run-off campaign is likely to be far more divisive than it was in the first round, which was largely overshadowed by Ukraine.

French President and centrist presidential candidate for re-election Emmanuel Macron gestures as he walks after casting his vote in the first round of the presidential election, Sunday April 10, 2022 in Le Touquet, northern France.

French President and centrist presidential candidate for re-election Emmanuel Macron gestures as he walks after casting his vote in the first round of the presidential election, Sunday April 10, 2022 in Le Touquet, northern France.
(AP Photo/Louis Witter)

Le Pen has taken a hardline stance on immigration, promising to ban the Muslim headscarf on French streets and halal and kosher butchers, and to drastically reduce immigration from outside Europe. But she has gone to great lengths in recent years to soften her image – an effort that has won over some voters but made others even more suspicious.

A victory for Macron will mean a victory for the EU, which has shown rare unity in its response to Ukraine. Observers say a re-election of Macron would mean increased cooperation and investment in European security and defence, especially with a new pro-EU German government.

Le Pen, meanwhile, has long been a critic of Brussels and would align himself with other far-right leaders in Europe, such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban.

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Russia’s war in Ukraine gave Macron the opportunity to demonstrate his influence on the international scene and restore his pro-NATO image. Other presidential candidates have differing views on France’s role in the military alliance.

The Associated Press and Fox News’ Greg Palkot contributed to this report.

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