Centrist Macron, rightist Le Pen win French vote

Centrist Macron, rightist Le Pen win French vote

Emmanuel Macron (left) and Marine Le Pen will contest the May 27 election to become the next president of France. (Agency photos)
Emmanuel Macron (left) and Marine Le Pen will contest the May 27 election to become the next president of France. (Agency photos)

PARIS - French centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen are advancing to the presidential runoff, after major opponents conceded defeat.

It is the first time in modern French history that no major-party candidate has advanced to the presidential runoff.

Le Pen hailed the result.

"This is historic, the first step has been taken," she told cheering supporters. "It is time to liberate the French people."

In a nutshell:
Marine Le Pen, 48, leader of the far-right National Front, was a slight front-runner or tied for first place for much of the campaign after years of trying to distance her party from a history of anti-Semitism. She had been losing ground as the campaign wound down, but the terrorist attack on Thursday night in Paris may now give her a final fillip of support. She has been stridently against Muslim immigration, linking it to security issues.

Emmanuel Macron, 39, a former banker and independent centrist, was virtually neck and neck with Le Pen. Socially liberal but in favor of more control in the marketplace, he wants to loosen labor rules and make France more business-friendly, but he says he would preserve the social safety net. While he could draw votes from across the political spectrum, he is also regarded warily by both left and right: on the left for his free-market ideas and support for the European Union; and on the right for his embrace of immigration and overall social outreach to all groups.

Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve called on voters to support centrist candidate Macron and defeat Le Pen in the country's presidential election on May 27.

In early vote-counting, Macron, a 39-year-old independent, has 23.8% of the vote at of 1am Thailand time, while the National Front's Le Pen, 48, has 21.6%.

Republican Francois Fillon has 20.3% and Communist-backed Jean-Luc Melenchon has 19.6%.

Totals were produced by pollster Ifop.

The figures are based on the initial count of actual votes. Two other pollsters gave similar estimates.

The two top vote-getters will go to a runoff election, which will be held on May 7.

The turnout figure at 5pm in France (midnight in Thailand) was estimated at 69%, slightly below the 2012 election turnout, according to France's Interior Ministry.

Voters chose from 11 candidates, with the four leading ones so close in the polls leading up to the election that it had been too risky to predict the outcome.

BRUSSELS - Belgian and Swiss media carried reports on Sunday saying that unidentified pollsters believed Emmanuel Macron would reach the French presidential runoff but that it was unclear who his opponent would be.

France's official polling watchdog told Reuters last week that the country's nine main pollsters had committed to refrain from carrying out exit polls and said anything purporting to reflect results before the last polling stations close at 8 PM in France (1am Thailand time) could only be a rumour at best.

Pollsters also said they would not do exit polls from Sunday's first round of voting.

All the Belgian media stressed that the findings, whose sources they did not disclose, were provisional and subject to change.

An hour before polls close, at which time French polling agencies will be allowed under national law to release forecasts of the first-round result, Belgium's French-speaking public broadcaster RTBF forecast independent centrist Macron would secure first place, ahead of far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen.

The country's two other leading French-language newspapers, Le Soir and La Libre Belgique, carried similar reports online, as did the Swiss newspaper Le Temps in Geneva. However, all four media said Le Pen's lead over conservative Francois Fillon and leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon was too close to call.

The top two candidates will run off for the French presidency on May 7.

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