France’s Macron to Face Le Pen in Presidential Election Runoff

France’s Macron to Face Le Pen in Presidential Election Runoff
(Left) French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen posing during a photo session in Paris on Oct. 20, 2021. (Right) French President Emmanuel Macron posing for a photo session in Paris on March 7, 2017. (Joël Saget and Eric Feferberg/AFP via Getty Images)

PARIS—Incumbent Emmanuel Macron will face right-wing conservative Marine Le Pen in a winner-takes-all runoff for the French presidency, after they both advanced Sunday in the first round of voting in the country’s election to set up another head-to-head clash of their sharply opposing visions for France.

On Sunday, Le Pen racked up her best-ever first-round tally of votes. With most votes counted, Macron had just over 27 percent and Le Pen had just under 24 percent. Left-wing leader Jean-Luc Melenchon was third, missing out on the two-candidate runoff, with close to 22 percent.

Macron also improved on his first-round showing in 2017, despite his presidency being rocked by an almost unrelenting series of both domestic and international crises. They include Russia’s war in Ukraine that overshadowed the election and diverted his focus from the campaign.

But while Macron won their last contest in 2017 by a landslide to become France’s youngest-ever president, the same outcome this time is far from guaranteed.

Ifop pollsters predicted a very tight runoff, with 51 percent for Macron and 49 percent for Le Pen. The gap is so tight that victory either way is within the margin of error.

Other pollsters offered a slightly bigger margin in favor of Macron, with up to 54 percent. But that was in any case much narrower than in 2017, when Macron beat Le Pen with 66.1 percent of the votes.

Addressing supporters Sunday night who chanted “five more years,” Macron warned that “nothing is done” and said the runoff campaign will be “decisive for our country and for Europe.”

“I want to reach out to all those who want to work for France,” he said. He vowed to “implement the project of progress, of French and European openness and independence we have advocated for.”

The election outcome will have wide international influence as Europe struggles to contain the impact from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Macron has strongly backed European Union sanctions on Russia while Le Pen has worried about their impact on French living standards. Macron also is a firm supporter of NATO and of close collaboration among the European Union’s 27 members.

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 Le Pen, in a late surge, tapped into the foremost issue on many French voters’ minds: soaring costs for food, gas, and heating due to rising inflation and the repercussions of Western sanctions on Russia.

Le Pen’s supporters celebrated with champagne and chanted “We’re going to win!” She sought to reach out to left-wing supporters for round two by promising fixes for “a France torn apart.”

She said the second round presents voters with “a fundamental choice between two opposing visions of the future: Either the division, injustice, and disorder imposed by Emmanuel Macron to the benefit of the few, or the uniting of French people around social justice and protection.”

Reuters contributed to this report.