French President Emmanuel Macron cruised to a second term on Sunday, easily defeating right-wing challenger Marine Le Pen amid low turnout levels in the country’s runoff election, polling projections showed.
According to preliminary results, Macron received 58.2% of the vote compared to Le Pen’s tally of 41.8%.
The election pitted the centrist incumbent against far-right nationalist Le Pen — an ideological face-off that betrayed France’s increasing political divide.
“Many of our compatriots voted for me not out of support for my ideas but to block those of the extreme right,” Macron said in a victory speech. “I want to thank them and I know that I have a duty towards then in the years to come.
“We will have to be benevolent and respectful because our country is riddled with so many doubts, so many divisions,” he said. “No one will be left by the wayside. It will be up to us to work together to achieve this unity which will enable us to live happier lives n France.”
In a concession speech Sunday, Le Pen called her run “historic” and a “shining victory” over the unprecedented turnout of right-wing voters.
“A great wind of freedom could have blown over our country, but the ballot box decided otherwise,” she told supporters, adding, “the game is not quite over.”
Le Pen said the results would serve her party, National Rally, well in the upcoming June parliamentary elections.
“Emmanuel Macron will do nothing to repair the factures that divide our country and make our compatriots suffer,” she said. “I fear that the five-year term [that] is about to begin will not break with the brutal methods of the previous one.”
With his victory, Macron becomes the first French president to be elected to a second term in 20 years, CNN said.
Macron, 44, had edged out Le Pen in the first round of the two-tier election process, with 27.8% of the vote compared to Le Pen’s 23.1%.
Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon came in third with less than 22% of the vote.
The second-round vote on Sunday concluded at 8 p.m. in Paris — 2 p.m. Eastern Time in the US — with low overall turnout at the polls by French standards.
According to the Interior Ministry, about 63% of French voters went to the polls, down from 65% in the 2017 election, when Macron was elected.
Macron had a slight lead in the polls going into the run-off, with a 51-49 percentage edge, according to one survey.
But political analysts saw the incumbent as vulnerable, and alarmed far-left European Union leaders, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, openly rooted for Macron.
Le Pen, 53, lost with 33% of the vote in the last election, with Macron trumping her with 66% of the vote. But the French have taken a turn right in the past five years.
Le Pen, the leader of the country’s National Rally, has tapped into growing discontent among French voters, drawing crowds with anti-immigration and anti-Muslim rhetoric — including a push to ban Muslim headscarfs.
The right-wing activist has also pushed for more independence from the EU, while Macron has been peddling closer ties with the union.
Le Pen chided Macron during the campaign for the president’s vocal push for sanctions against Russia in the invasion of Ukraine, warning about the economic cost back home in France.
France’s two-step voting system still relies on paper ballots and does not allow absentee ballots or early voting — an approach that has irked critics.
Voters are largely required to show ID and place their paper ballots in a box.
Only about 60 towns out of 35,000 French municipalities use voting machines, an experiment that was halted when the purchase of the machines were stopped in 2008 over security concerns.
With Post wires
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