French polls: Macron, far-right rival Le Pen threaten to finish second

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PARIS — French polling stations on Sunday predicted that President Emmanuel Macron and far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen are heading for a new winner for all elections in the country, with their fierce political rivalry and sharply opposing views that left 10 other candidates in the crowded first round of voting. .

If confirmed by official vote counts later Sunday night, pollsters’ first forecasts mean France is poised for a repeat of the 2017 head-to-head contest that made Macron France’s youngest-ever president – but there’s no guarantee this time it will. result will be the same.

This time, Le Pen intervened to address the main problem on the minds of many French voters: the cost of food, gas and heating, which has skyrocketed due to the disruption of the war in Ukraine and the economic fallout from Western sanctions against Russia.

France’s election results will have major international impact as Europe struggles to contain the havoc wrought by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Macron has strongly supported European Union sanctions against Russia, while Le Pen has publicly expressed concern about their impact on French living standards. Macron is also a strong supporter of NATO and close cooperation between the 27 members of the European Union.

Macron, a 44-year-old political centrist, won by a landslide five years ago but is bracing for a much tougher runoff election on April 24 against his 53-year-old political nemesis. Le Pen promises seismic shifts for France — both nationally and internationally — if it is elected the country’s first female president, and looks closer than ever to having a shot at making it to the presidential Elysée Palace.

The projections showed that both Macron and Le Pen are on track to improve their showings in the first round of 2017, highlighting how increasingly polarized French politics has become. Macron was expected to secure a significant lead of around 28% in the first round, ahead of Le Pen’s projected 23% to 24% of the vote.

The projections showed that left-wing firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon – one of six candidates on the left – finished third out of the runoff election, with around 20% support.

For months, Macron looked like a shoo-in to become the first president of France in 20 years to win a second term. But National Rally leader Le Pen is eroding his lead in the polls in the closing stages of the campaign, as the pain of inflation became a dominant election theme for many low-income voters.

“The French people have honored me by qualifying for the second round,” Le Pen said on Sunday evening, thanking her supporters and calling on those who did not vote for Macron to support her in round two.

Le Pen, in particular, seemed to target Melechon’s left-wing supporters by promising “social justice” and solutions for “a torn France.” Her supporters celebrated with champagne and interrupted her speech with chants of “We’re going to win!”

Still, some of her defeated rivals were so alarmed by the possibility that Le Pen would defeat Macron in the presidential election that they urged their supporters on Sunday to shift their second-round votes to the incumbent. Addressing supporters who at times shed tears, Melenchon reiterated three times that Le Pen should not be allowed “a single vote”.

Defeated Conservative candidate Valerie Pecresse, who described herself as “deeply concerned”, warned of “the chaos that would ensue” if Le Pen was elected, and said the far-right leader has never been closer to power. Pecresse said she would vote for Macron in the second round.

Pollsters suggest that just a few percentage points could separate France’s known enemies in the second round, setting up a second round likely to be much more confrontational than the first, which was largely overshadowed by the war in Ukraine.

After Le Pen dropped the blue envelope containing her choice at a ballot box in the northern city of Henin-Beaumont, she said that “given the situation in the country and in the world”, Sunday’s election results could determine “not just the next five years, but probably the next 50 years” in France.

In the 27-member EU, only France has a nuclear arsenal and a UN Security Council veto.

To beat Le Pen in the second round, Macron must tear apart her years-long rebranding efforts to make herself seem less extreme, a makeover that has even highlighted her love of cats. Macron has accused Le Pen of pushing an extremist manifesto of racist, devastating policies. Le Pen wants to ban Muslim headscarves on French streets and halal and kosher butchers, and drastically reduce immigration from outside Europe.

Her softer image won over some voters, but has made others even more suspicious.

Yves Maillot, a retired engineer, said he only voted for Macron to oppose Le Pen. He said she feared her long-standing hostility to the EU could lead her to try to get France out of the bloc, even though she has removed it from her manifesto.

“I don’t think she’s changed at all,” he said. “It’s the same, but with cats.”

Elaine Ganley, Sylvie Corbet and Patrick Hermansen in Paris contributed

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