Newcomer versus nationalist leader in French run-off

For the first time in modern French history, a mainstream political candidate has not made it to the final round of the presidential race.

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Instead, the voters of France have chosen two outsiders to face off for the presidency, newcomer Emmanuel Macron and nationalist leader Marine Le Pen.

Opinion polls consistently project the 39-year-old Mr Macron as the favourite to win the run-off.

He is the youngest-ever French presidential hopeful and has never run for election previously.

Before a cheering crowd of supporters, Mr Macron has called on all what he terms “patriots” to rally behind him against what he calls the “threat” of the nationalists.

“I want to be the president of all the French people, of patriots in the face of the nationalists’ threat. A president who protects, transforms and builds. A president who allows those who want to create, innovate, do business and work to do so more easily and more quickly.”

Mr Macron’s rise has been swift.

He set up his ‘En Marche!’ political movement just a year ago while working as the youngest minister of the economy in the nation’s history.

The former banker framed himself as a progressive who wanted the economy to become more business-friendly in a liberal society.

It is a radically different economic vision to his rival Marine Le Pen, the Eurosceptic and anti-immigration leader of the National Front party.

Speaking to supporters in northern France, Ms Le Pen has called herself “the candidate for the people” and promises to defend France against globalisation.

“The French people must seize this historic opportunity that has opened up to them, because what is at stake in this election is unbridled globalisation, which is threatening our civilisation. The French people have a simple choice: Do we continue on the path of total deregulation, without borders and without protection and, as a consequence, the relocations of jobs, unfair international competition, mass immigration and free movement of terrorists?”

Former prime minister Francois Fillon was knocked out of the race.

Mr Fillon, whose campaign was rocked by corruption allegations, has now called on his supporters to back Mr Macron.

“I am doing this with a heavy heart, but abstention does not run in my genes, especially when an extremist party is getting close to power. The National Front, this party created by Jean-Marie Le Pen, has a history that is known for its violence and for its intolerance. Its social and economic program would lead our country to bankruptcy, and, to this chaos, we would have to add the European chaos, with the exit from the euro. I assure you, extremism can only bring unhappiness and division. There is no other choice but to vote against the far right. I will, therefore, vote in favour of Emmanuel Macron.”

Mr Fillon was tied in third place with fast-rising Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Mr Melenchon was the leader of a grassroots movement called, in English, Insubmissive France, which had the backing of the Communist Party.

He refused to accept early projections that indicated his defeat and has not been ready to back another candidate in the run-off.

“The challenges that we’ve named, without making light of any and all the difficulties to solve them, the challenges are still yet to be solved. And those who pretend today to have the honour to be representing us all have already demonstrated that they’re incapable to even think about these.”

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has congratulated Emmanuel Macron and wished him well for the run-off election.

Germany has also welcomed Mr Macron’s success in the first round.

Political analysts say Mr Macron’s biggest concern now is to transcend traditional party divides into a working majority.

The head of the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Science, Professor Simon Tormey, (TOR-may) says the June run-off will show whether Mr Macron can overcome them.

“His problem is going to be that, because he doesn’t have a party structure behind him, it’s the next step which is going to be difficult. So if he’s elected president, he’s still got to basically earn a majority in the Assemble National. Normally, of course, a president comes in because they’ve been the top candidate from the Socialist party or a right-wing party, and they’ve already got representation in Assemble National.”