PARIS — Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen qualified for the second round of France’s presidential election, according to projections after the first round on Sunday.
TF1 television projected that centrist Macron and far-right leader Le Pen would win 23 percent of the vote each, with conservative former Prime Minister François Fillon and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon on 19 percent each.
France 2 television projected that Macron — who formed his own independent political movement last year — had 23.7 percent of the vote while Le Pen had 21.7 percent, with Fillon and Mélenchon both on 19.5 percent.
Senior figures from both of France’s traditional major parties, the Socialists and the conservative Les Républicains, called on their supporters to unite behind Macron to ensure Le Pen’s National Front was defeated.
Socialist presidential candidate Benoît Hamon, who came a distant fifth on between six and seven percent of the vote, immediately called on his supporters to back Macron in the second round runoff on May 7.
“I call for a fight against the National Front and call for a vote for Emanuel Macron,” Hamon said.
François Baroin, a conservative former finance minister, told TF1: “The project of Madame Le Pen means chaos for France. I will vote for sure for Emmanuel Macron. We need to oppose the National Front.”
Macron and Le Pen will face each other in the runoff to choose a successor to deeply unpopular socialist President François Hollande, who decided not to run for another term.
Before Sunday’s first round, opinion polls suggested Macron would beat Le Pen easily in the runoff.
Final opinion polls published two days before the first round had suggested support for both Macron and Le Pen was at around 22 to 24 percent, with Fillon and Mélenchon just a few points behind.
However, the end of the election campaign was overshadowed by the fatal shooting of a police officer on the Champs Elysées on Thursday night which appeared to be the latest in a string of attacks by Islamic terrorists in France in recent years.
Sunday’s result was a stunning achievement for 39-year-old Macron, a former civil servant and investment banker who was virtually unknown to the public until he was appointed economy minister in 2014. He quit the post last August after forming his political movement, En Marche.
Macron has run on a liberal, pro-EU platform, pledging to give new energy to the European project following Britain’s vote last year to leave the bloc. His has also promised fiscal discipline in line with Eurozone rules, partly in the hope of convincing Germany to agree to a common investment budget and joint finance minister for the zone.
Le Pen’s score is the best ever result for her National Front party in a presidential election, beating the 17.9 percent of the vote she won in 2012. This will be the second time the National Front has made it to a presidential runoff; Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, staged an upset in the first round in 2002 but was heavily defeated by Jacques Chirac in the runoff.
She proposes renegotiating France’s relationship with the EU to give Paris far greater control over borders and economic policy. Le Pen would call a referendum on France’s membership of the EU after concluding talks with Brussels and would back withdrawal from the bloc if — as seems almost certain — she did not get the changes she wanted.