PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron was on course Sunday to win a second term by defeating far-right leader Marine Le Pen in presidential elections, projections showed.
Macron was set to win 57.0-58.5 per cent of the vote compared with Le Pen on 41.5-43.0 per cent, according to projections by polling firms for French television channels based on a sample of the vote count.
The result is narrower than their second-round clash in 2017, when the same two candidates met in the run-off and Macron polled over 66 per cent of the vote.
The relatively comfortable margin of victory will nonetheless give Macron some confidence as he heads into a second five-year mandate, but the election also represents the closest the far-right has ever come to winning power in France.
A victory by Le Pen, accused by opponents of having cosy ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, would have sent shockwaves around the world comparable to the 2016 polls that led to Brexit in Britain and Donald Trump’s election in the United States.
Incumbent set to win 57.6 to 58.2pc of vote, compared with 41.8 to 42.4pc for Le Pen
The outcome, expected to be confirmed by official results overnight, will cause immense relief in Europe after fears a Le Pen presidency would leave the continent rudderless following Brexit and the departure of German chancellor Angela Merkel.
Left-leaning EU leaders, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, had pleaded with France in the run-up to the vote to choose Macron over his rival, in an unusual intervention published in Le Monde newspaper.
Macron will be the first French president to win re-election since Jacques Chirac in 2002 after his predecessors Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande left office after only one term.
Macron will be hoping for a less complicated second term that will allow him to implement his vision of more pro-business reform and tighter EU integration after a first term shadowed by protests, then the pandemic and finally Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But he will have to win over those who backed his opponents and the millions of French who did not bother to vote.
On the basis of the official figures, polling organisations estimated that the abstention rate was on course for 28 per cent which, if confirmed, would be the highest in any presidential election second-round run-off since 1969.
The outcome of the first round on April 10 had left Macron, 44, in a solid but not unassailable position to retain the presidency.
Bitter pill for Le Pen
High on his to-do-list is pension reform including a raising of the French retirement age which Macron has argued is essential for the budget but is likely to run into strong opposition and protests.
He will also have to rapidly return from the campaign trail to dealing with the Russian onslaught against Ukraine, with pressure on France to step up supplies of weapons to Kyiv and signs President Vladimir Putin is losing interest in any diplomacy.
For Le Pen, her third defeat in presidential polls will be a bitter pill to swallow after she ploughed years of effort into making herself electable and distancing her party from the legacy of its founder, her father Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2022