French President Emmanuel Macron and far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen are heading for another winner-takes-all runoff in the country’s Presidential election, polling agencies projected on April 10, as the fierce political rivals with sharply opposing visions for France pulled clear of 10 other candidates in the first round of voting.
If confirmed by official vote counts later on Sunday, the initial projections mean France is teeing up for a repeat of the 2017 head-to-head contest that turned the centrist Mr. Macron into France’s youngest President — but there is no guarantee this time that the outcome will be the same.
Mr. Macron for months had looked like a shoo-in to become France’s first President in 20 years to win a second term. But National Rally leader Ms. Le Pen, in a late surge, tapped into the foremost issue on many French voters’ minds: the soaring costs for food, gas and heating due to rising inflation and the repercussions of Western sanctions on Russia.
The French election result will have wide international influence as Europe struggles to contain the havoc wreaked by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Mr. Macron has strongly backed European Union sanctions on Russia while Ms. Le Pen has worried about their impact on French living standards. Mr. Macron also is a firm supporter of NATO and of close collaboration among the European Union’s 27 members.
Mr. Macron, a 44-year-old political centrist, won by a landslide five years ago but he is bracing for a far tougher runoff battle on April 24 against his 53-year-old political nemesis. Ms. Le Pen is promising seismic shifts for France — both domestically and internationally — if elected as the country’s first woman President.
The projections showed both Mr. Macron and Ms. Le Pen on course to improve their 2017 first-round showings, highlighting how French politics have become increasingly polarised. Mr. Macron was expected to capture a sizeable first-round lead of around 28% support, ahead of Ms. Le Pen’s projected 23%-to-24% of the vote. Hard-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mr. Melenchon — one of half a dozen candidates on the left — finishing out of the runoff in third place, with about 20% support.
After the projections were announced, Mr. Macron sought wide support, calling on those from both the mainstream left and right to rejoin his project and defeat the far right.
“I want to reach out to all those who want to work for France. I’m ready to invent something new to gather diverse convictions and views in order to build with them a joint action,” he said, vowing to “implement the project of progress, of French and European openness and independence we have advocated for.” For her part, Ms. Le Pen seemed to target Mr. Melenchon’s left-wing supporters in particular by promising “social justice” and fixes for “a France torn apart.” “The French people honoured me by qualifying me for the second round,” Ms. Le Pen said on Sunday night as she thanked her supporters and called on those who didn’t vote for Mr. Macron to back her in round two.
Her supporters celebrated with champagne and interrupted her speech with chants of “We’re going to win!” Yet some of her defeated rivals were so alarmed by the possibility of Ms. Le Pen beating Mr. Macron in the Presidential runoff that they urged their supporters on Sunday to shift their second-round votes to the incumbent. Mr. Melenchon, addressing supporters who sometimes shed tears, repeated three times that Ms. Le Pen shouldn’t get “one single vote.” Describing herself as “profoundly worried,” defeated conservative candidate Valerie Pecresse warned of “the chaos that would ensue” if Ms. Le Pen was elected, saying the far-right leader has never been so close to power. Ms. Pecresse said she would vote for Mr. Macron in the runoff.