Le Pen faces Macron in final round of French presidential election
Sunday - 23/04/2017 17:53
Macron, 39, a former banker, has never held elected office, though he served as economy minister under Prime Minister Manuel Valls.
(CNN) - Voters in France have comprehensively snubbed the country's political establishment, sending far-right populist Marine Le Pen and political novice Emmanuel Macron through to the second round of the country's presidential election, early results indicate.
With 86% of polling stations declared, National Front leader Le Pen and newcomer Macron were virtually neck-and-neck on about 23% of the vote each.
The result upended traditional French politics: Neither candidate hails from the establishment parties that have dominated the country for decades.
It was a stunning victory for Macron, 39, a former investment banker who has never before stood for elected office and now becomes the favorite to become France's next President. "We did it," he told jubilant supporters.
It was also a success for Le Pen, who has spent years attempting to rid the Front National of the toxic legacy of her father. "It is time to free French people from arrogant elites ... I am the people's candidate," she declared.
The result mirrored others -- such as the British vote to leave the European Union and the US election of Donald Trump -- where voters have rejected traditional elites. "It's a political earthquake in this country and in Europe," veteran French journalist Christine Ockrent told CNN.
Scandal-hit conservative François Fillon and far-left wildcard Jean-Luc Mélenchon trailed in third place and were knocked out of the closely-fought race. Le Pen and Macron are now set to face each other in a runoff election on May 7.
Speaking in Henin-Beaumont, a Front National stronghold in northern France, Le Pen rallied her supporters to her anti-immigration, anti-European Union message.
"The French people must seize this opportunity, because the enormous challenge of this election is the wild globalization that puts our civilization at risk," Le Pen said.
"Either we continue to disintegrate without any borders, without any controls, unfair international competition, mass immigration and the free circulation of terrorists, or you choose France with borders," she added.
A huge cheer went up at Macron's campaign headquarters as news of the results came through. "France's political map is tonight redrawn," said CNN's Melissa Bell, who was at the scene.
"Macron's is a remarkable achievement, because he represents optimism," Ockrent told her.
As his supporters waved Tricolour flags, and those of the EU, Macron told a rally in Paris he would carry "the voice of hope that we want for our country and for Europe," into the second round.
"The two political parties that have governed France for years have been discarded," he said.
"The deep ... feeling which has led our people to love our country and overcome its divisions is spectacular," he said. "You have shown that the hope of our country was not a dream but a relentless and benevolent will."
By 5 p.m. local time (11 a.m. ET) 69.42% of France's 47 million registered voters had cast their ballots, according to the Interior Ministry -- a marginally lower turnout than at the same point in 2012.
With 11 names on the ballot, no single candidate had been expected to win an outright majority; instead the top two candidates will face a second and final ballot on May 7.
The incumbent President, socialist François Hollande, whose approval ratings have remained in the doldrums for several years, made the unusual decision not to run for a second term.
As the results became clear, French politicians and several of the defeated candidates appeared to throw their support behind Macron -- or to speak out against Le Pen.
Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve tweeted an appeal to all voters to back Macron in the second round, "to combat the National Front's disastrous project to take France backwards and to divide the French people."