French election: Macron to face off against far-right leader Le Pen in presidential run-off

President under threat from far-right candidate on April 24th after underwhelming campaign

President Emmanuel Macron will confront the extreme right-wing leader Marine Le Pen in the runoff of the French presidential election on April 24th, after ten other candidates were eliminated in the first round of voting on Sunday.

Mr Macron defeated Ms Le Pen five years ago. The Ifop-Fiducial polling institute on Sunday night predicted he will defeat her again, by a much narrower margin of 51 to 49 per cent. That prediction is within the margin of error, meaning Le Pen has a chance of winning. Mr Macron defeated Ms Le Pen by 66 to 34 per cent in 2017.

Mr Macron won an estimated 28.3 per cent of the first-round vote, five points higher than Ms Le Pen at 23.3 per cent.

There was palpable relief among Mr Macron’s supporters, because the last opinion polls on Friday had placed Ms Le Pen only one or two percentage points behind him.


Four other candidates immediately called on their supporters to vote for Mr Macron in the runoff and the extreme left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who came in third with an estimated 21.2 per cent of the vote exhorted his supporters: “Do not give a single vote to Madame Le Pen!”. Mr Mélenchon could make a big difference by asking his supporters to vote for Macron.

“I thank [the Socialist] Anne Hidalgo, [the Green] Yannick Jadot, [the conservative] Valérie Pécresse and [the Communist] Fabien Roussel who have given me their support,” Mr Macron told a cheering crowd two hours after the results were announced.

"I solemnly invite our compatriots, whatever their choice in the first round, to join us," Mr Macron continued. "Some will do so to bar the way for the extreme right. I am fully aware that does not mean they support my programme, and I respect that. I know that is the choice of Jean-Luc Mélenchon. I salute their clarity towards the extreme right... I want to hold out a hand to all those who want to work for France. "

Ms Le Pen made a similar appeal, inviting all those who did not vote for Mr Macron to join her. The leader of the Rassemblement National said the runoff presents France with “a fundamental choice between opposing visions” with on one side “division, injustice and disorder” which she said were embodied by Mr Macron, and “social justice” if she is elected.

Eric Zemmour, also from the extreme right, came in fourth, at around 7 per cent. He was alone in calling on his supporters to give their second-round vote to Le Pen. He said that the party he recently founded, Reconquête! (Reconquest!) “will not give up until France is reconquered”.

Ms Le Pen’s niece, Marion Maréchal, who abandoned her aunt to join Mr Zemmour’s campaign, said it was up to Ms Le Pen to “hold out her hand” to Mr Zemmour “so that Emmanuel Macron will not be re-elected”.

Sunday’s results showed how successful Mr Macron has been at destroying the traditional left and right-wing parties, the Socialists and Les Républicains, but how badly he has failed to blunt the appeal of the extremes. Of the top four candidates, only Mr Macron is not considered an extremist. Three extreme right-wing candidates and Mr Mélenchon from the far left won a combined score of about 53 per cent.

None of the other candidates was certain to reach the 5 per cent threshold required to have their campaign expenses reimbursed.

By winning more than 20 per cent of the vote, Mr Mélenchon, a former Socialist, is positioned to lead the remnants of the French left in the legislative elections which follow in June.

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe is an Irish Times contributor