Published: Mon, April 24, 2017
Business | By Max Garcia

Macron and Le Pen advance to French presidential runoff

Macron and Le Pen advance to French presidential runoff

"While it's clear that populism is growing in the region as it is elsewhere, the victory for Emmanuel Macron in the first round may well have crushed the chances of Marine Le Pen in two weeks' time".

Far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron won the first round of the French presidential election today, triggering a runoff on May 7 between two radically different visions of the country's future.

Mr Macron, who quit current president Francois Hollande's Socialists only previous year ago to launch a new party, led the way with 23.7% of the first round vote, according to an exit poll by Ipsos and Sopra Steria. Macron, a 39-year-old investment banker, made the runoff on the back of a grassroots campaign without the support of a major political party.

Whatever the outcome on May 7, it will mean a redrawing of France's political landscape, which has been dominated for 60 years by mainstream groupings from the centre-left and centre-right, both of whose candidates faded.

"Polls have repeatedly suggested that Macron is likely to comfortably beat Le Pen in the second round", Diego Iscaro at research house IHS Markit Economics said in a commentary.

He pledged to further reduce French high employment charges and increase workers' minimum wages by 500 euros (535.9 US dollars) per year by cutting taxes on wages.

The populist tsunami that slammed into Britain previous year, before sweeping across the Atlantic to the United States, may have faded on the shores of France on Sunday.

Macron's gradual deregulation measures are likely to be welcomed by global financial markets, as are cuts in state expenditure and the civil service.

Supporters of Emmanuel Macron French presidential election candidate for the En Marche! movement celebrate after the results of the first round of the presidential election at the Parc des Expositions in Paris
French vote for president in litmus test for Europe's future

Macron promised to boost the defense budget, hire 10,000 police officers and raise funding for schools.

Global markets reacted with relief to Sunday's outcome which broke a pattern of anti-establishment election shocks in which Britons voted to quit the European Union and Donald Trump was elected USA president.

Hollande called his former protege Macron, who served as his economy minister from 2014 to 2016, to congratulate him on qualifying for the runoff. But I think what it tells us is that people are ready to sweep away the old and try the new. Le Pen said French voters face a "historic opportunity" to choose between "savage globalization that threatens our civilization" or a France "with borders that protect our jobs and our purchasing power".

If elected, Le Pen pledged to impose an extra tax on companies who hire foreigners and make harder for illegal migrants to legalize their situation.

Le Pen called for "Islamist mosques" to be closed after the attack.

When Jean-Marie Le Pen ran in 2002, he seemed like a quirky throwback, never given a serious shot at victory.

At the post-election party at Porte de Versailles in the south of Paris, Macron supporters waved both French and European Union flags. Her party, the National Front, has been part of French politics for decades, and has been historically noisy in its opposition to immigration. Voter turnout was similar to 2012 at about 80 percent of 47 million people eligible to vote.

Macron is a former member of the Socialist Party, but became an independent politician in 2009. "Le Pen is too divisive and she does not have the majority of the electorate that she would need", she said.

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