PARIS (MNI) – Emmanuel Macron won the first round of France’s presidential election on Sunday, putting him in a strong position to become the next French president.
Macron, running for public office for the first time after serving two years as economy minister, won 24% of the vote in election’s first round, compared with 21.8% for Marine Le Pen, head of the far right National Front, according to early estimates by the polling firm Elabe.
The conservative former prime minister Francois Fillon came in third with 19.9% of the vote, just ahead of the Communist-backed firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon with 19.3%, both of whom will be eliminated from the race.
Financial markets immediately cheered Macron’s victory, with the euro jumping against the dollar and analysts predicting rising Eurozone stock and bond prices on Monday.
“Markets should be very relieved that the nightmare scenario has been avoided,” said Vincent Deluard, vice president of global macro strategy at the advisory firm INTL FCStone. “It’s really the best possible result.”
Macron and Le Pen will now go head to head in a runoff vote scheduled for May 7, which nearly all polls say Macron will win by a comfortable margin.
Political rivals immediately pledged support for Macron as soon as the results were in, declaring the need to band together to defeat Le Pen.
The Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon called on voters to reject Le Pen “in the strongest possible way.” Francois Baroin, one Fillon’s strongest supporters, called the ex-premier’s defeat “an earthquake” and said he would vote for Macron in the second round.
The presidential election presented French voters with stark choices, with Le Pen pledging to pull France out of the euro, Melenchon vowing to make the European Central Bank finance states directly by buying their debt, and Fillon promising to slash 500,000 public-sector jobs. In the end voters gravitated to the centrist Macron, and his pro-European views and moderate economic reform program.
Voter turnout, at around 77% was lower than previous presidential elections as voters remained highly uncertain throughout the campaign. Turnout was down from 81.4% and 85.3%, respectively, in the 2012 and 2007 presidential elections.
The election, like the parliamentary vote in the Netherlands in mid-March, was also viewed as a test of whether the populist sentiment that produced Brexit and brought Donald Trump to the presidency in the US would help bring far-right populist leaders to power in Europe in Europe.
While that wave now appears to have fizzled somewhat, the election will reshape France’s political landscape as both the mainstream parties that have ruled the country for half a century have now been eliminated from the race.
Macron and Le Pen will meet for a final debate on Wednesday, May 3, before the final vote on Sunday, May 7. If elected the the 39-year-old former banker will face the immediate challenge of assembling a parliamentary majority in legislative elections scheduled for June.