PARIS—French leader Emmanuel Macron and his strongest challenger, Marine Le Pen, qualified on April 10 for a presidential election runoff on April 24, pitting a pro-European economic left-wing liberal against a right-wing nationalist.
Ifop pollsters predicted a tight runoff, with 51 percent for Macron and 49 percent for Le Pen. In 2017, he won with 66.1 percent of the votes.
Le Pen, who had eaten into the president’s once-commanding 10-point poll lead in recent weeks, said she was the one to protect the weak and unite a nation tired of its elite.
With 88 percent of the votes counted for Sunday’s first round, Macron garnered 27.41 percent of the votes and Le Pen 24.9 percent. A near total count of the vote was expected for later in the evening.
To cheers of supporters chanting “We will win! We will win!” Le Pen said she wanted to unite all French. The runoff “will be a choice of civilization,” she said, adding that her platform would protect the weak and make France independent.
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But he paid a price for late entry into the campaign during which he eschewed market walkabouts in provincial France in favor of a single big rally outside Paris. A plan to make people work longer also proved unpopular, enabling Le Pen to narrow the gap in opinion polls.
She, by contrast, for months toured towns and villages across France, focusing on cost-of-living issues that trouble millions and tapping into anger towards the political elite.
“Marine Le Pen knew how to talk to people about their more concrete problems. During the next two weeks, [Macron] will have to pay more attention to what is happening in France, and take a diplomatic break,” said Adrien Thierry, a 23-year-old supporter.
After enjoying a more than 10-point lead as late as mid-March, Macron’s margin of victory in an eventual runoff was whittled down to within the margin of error, voter surveys ahead of the first round showed.
A Le Pen victory on April 24 would constitute a similar jolt to the establishment as Britain’s Brexit vote to leave the European Union (EU) or Donald Trump’s 2017 entry into the White House.
While Le Pen has ditched past ambitions for a “Frexit” or to haul France out of the euro zone’s single currency, she envisages the EU as a mere alliance of sovereign states.