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French leader Emmanuel Macron and challenger Marine Le Pen qualified for what promises to be a very tightly fought presidential election.

French presidential election: Macron set to face Le Pen in runoff


French leader Emmanuel Macron and challenger Marine Le Pen qualified for what promises to be a very tightly fought presidential election runoff on Apr. 24, pitting a pro-European economic liberal against a far-right nationalist. The duel starts this week after the two came out on top in Sunday’s first-round vote. The centrist Macron is heading to an economically depressed area of northern France where a majority of voters chose Le Pen, close to her electoral stronghold of Henin-Beaumont.

Meanwhile, Le Pen’s National Rally officials will meet Monday to plan a strategy for the second round, scheduled on Apr. 24. Le Pen summed up the standoff by saying voters are faced with “a fundamental choice between two opposing visions of the future.”

Macron already faced Le Pen in the presidential runoff five years ago. But all opinion polls show the leader of the National Rally is much closer this time to a potential win.

After five years in power in which Macron’s abrasive style has upset many, Le Pen has succeeded in softening her image.

“Nothing is decided, and the battle we will wage in the next 15 days will be decisive for France and Europe,” Macron told supporters, urging all voters to rally behind him on Apr. 24 to stop the far-right from ruling the European Union’s second-largest economy.

Le Pen, who ate into Macron’s once-commanding 10-point poll lead in recent weeks by focusing on cost-of-living issues, said she was the one to protect the weak and unite a nation tired of its elite.

“What will be at stake on April 24 is a choice of society, a choice of civilization,” she told supporters. Those supporters chanted, “We will win,” as she told them, “I will bring order back to France.”

With most votes from the 12-candidate first round counted by Monday morning, Macron had more than 27% and Le Pen had 23%. Hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon was third with close to 22%.

Macron improved on his first-round showing in 2017 despite his presidency being rocked by the yellow vest movement, the pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The election outcome will have wide international influence as Europe struggles to contain the havoc wreaked by that war. Macron has strongly backed European Union sanctions on Russia while Le Pen has worried about their impact on French living standards. Macron is also a firm supporter of NATO and a close collaborator among the 27 EU members.