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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron finished first ahead of far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the first round of France’s presidential election on Sunday, but he is on track for a far closer second-round duel than five years ago.
While polls suggest Macron should retain the presidency in two weeks, the results of the first round show the incumbent cannot rest on his laurels.
Le Pen will be able to count on the voters of far-right TV pundit Eric Zemmour, who on April 24 called on his supporters to support her. Meanwhile, left-wing arsonist Jean-Luc Mélenchon did better than expected, catching up with a large portion of uncertainty in the mix as his voters are a mixed bunch. Many are likely to abstain in the second round, while others will split between the French President and Le Pen.
Here are five takeaways from the first round of the presidential election:
1. Macron and Le Pen rule the political quarter
France’s repeat of the 2017 runoff confirms Macron and Le Pen’s own political analysis: that the left-right divide in France is no longer relevant and has been replaced by an opposition between a mainstream pro-European bloc and open to the outside world on the one hand and nationalists on the other.
Both candidates scored more points than five years ago, leaving the traditional right and left in an even more chaotic state than before. Macron rose from 24 percent in 2017 to more than in the first round 27 percent Sunday, According to projections, Le Pen rose from 21.3 percent to around 23 percent.
The gap between them is wider than last time, showing Macron managed to garner the most votes despite controversy in the final mile of the campaign, including the state’s overuse of consulting firms. But the far-right bloc — Marine Le Pen, Eric Zemmour and nationalist Nicolas Dupont-Aignan together — received more than 30 percent of the total votes.
2. Zemmour didn’t draw a trump
Zemmour, a 63-year-old TV pundit turned politician, was once tipped to finish second behind Macron in October. But he plummeted spectacularly in the polls after suffering a perceived lack of credibility as the war in Ukraine began and earlier comments praising Russian President Vladimir Putin resurfaced. He scored a meager 7 percent.
Despite their bitter and unrelenting struggles throughout the campaign, he was quick to support Marine Le Pen.
“I have disagreements with Marine Le Pen,” Zemmour said in his concession speech on Sunday, “but there is one man confronting Marine Le Pen who has taken in 2 million immigrants … and therefore would be worse off if re-elected — that’s it. That’s why I urge my constituents to vote for Marine Le Pen.”
It remains to be seen whether this will lead to a right-wing extremist alliance in the longer term. Nicolas Bay and Gilbert Collard – two MPs who left Le Pen’s party to join Zemmour – have not supported a possible alliance with Le Pen if she wins the second round.
3. Mélenchon, last man on the left and surprise outperformer
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who finished a strong, very close third place in the election with more than 22 percent of the vote, managed to win the most left-leaning votes in the country. He is the biggest surprise of the first round — Although pollsters have chronicled his rise in recent weeks, he was not expected to be so hot on Le Pen’s heels.
He has risen in the polls in recent weeks and ultimately benefited from being perceived as the left’s only viable candidate. Other left-leaning candidates, including communist Fabien Roussel and the Greens’ Yannick Jadot, fared worse than expected.
His voters are likely to play a key role in the second ballot. “You shouldn’t vote for Madame Le Pen,” he repeated three times during his concession speech on Sunday. However, he did not specifically call for a vote in favor of Macron – leaving his constituents to choose between not voting or supporting the French president.
Almost half of the Mélenchon voters abstained in the second ballot, a poll by Ifop forecast on Sunday, while the remainder is expected to be split between Macron and Le Pen.
4. Former ruling parties are dead
This presidential election has completed what Macron started in 2017: Former ruling parties – the Socialist Party and the conservative Les Républicains – are now irreversibly crippled and it is hard to imagine how they will recover.
Valérie Pécresse, representing Les Républicains, is projected to score less than 5 percent. That’s doubly embarrassing: not only is it her party’s lowest result in its history, but it also means Les Républicains may not be reimbursed for their campaign expenses – as parties have to hit the 5 percent hurdle to get their money back .
Long-standing divisions also became apparent shortly after the results, with Pécresse saying she would vote for Macron, while her right-wing internal rival Eric Ciotti said he would not.
As for the socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, according to the first projections, she could not even reach 2 percent. That’s three times lower than the already historically low score of socialist candidate Benoît Hamon in 2017.
5. Abstentions lower than expected
The abstention rates were certainly high – but not as high as expected.
Ipsos estimates abstention at around 26 percent. That’s up from 2017, when 77 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots and 23 percent stayed at home.
But the abstention rate is lower than it was in 2002. Two decades ago, nearly 28.5 percent of the French chose to stay at home, helping Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father, make it to the second round for the first time.
The result defies some pollsters who had predicted a record 30 percent of eligible voters would not bother to cast their ballot.
https://www.politico.eu/article/5-takeaways-from-frances-presidential-election/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication 5 takeaways from the first round of the French presidential election - POLITICO