Macron, Le Pen reach French election runoff — as it happened
- Macron well ahead of Le Pen in first round, projections show
- The two top candidates in the first round qualify for the runoff on April 24
- Macron faced 11 challengers from the far left to the far right
- Voter turnout was significantly down compared to the 2017 election
- Mail-in ballots not allowed despite COVID-19 pandemic
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'Two opposing visions for the future,' Le Pen tells voters
Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen said that the second round of the presidential election offered voters "two opposing visions for the future."
After projections suggested she would face off against President Emmanuel Macron on April 24, Le Pen told supporters that she represents "social justice around the millennia-old concept of nation and people."
She promised to ensure national independence and the ability of ordinary French people to decide for themselves, vowing to “sort France out” in five years.
"What is at stake on April 24 is not a choice of circumstances, but a choice for society, a choice for civilization," the 53-year-old said. "What place we want to give the people against the power of money depends on your vote."
Macron tells voters 'nothing is decided' ahead of runoff
French President Emmanuel Macron has thanked his supporters for their vote in the first round and invited those who didn't to "come join us" in the runoff on April 24.
During a speech in Paris, he noted that some voters would only back him in order to stop far-right candidate Marine Le Pen from winning, not for his policy plans.
"I salute their clarity regarding the far right and the fact that we have to stop them," he said. The president insisted that "nothing is decided" and that the lead-up to the second round would be a "decisive moment for the future of our nation."
He also acknowledged the cost of living crisis and how many voters are concerned about inequality and insecurity.
"I would like to convince you that our project is more closely aligned to your goals than the far right," Macron said.
Firebrand Zemmour tells supporters to back Le Pen
Extreme right-wing candidate Eric Zemmour, who was eliminated in the first round, has called on his supporters to vote for Le Pen in the runoff.
"I don't doubt who is the adversary," Zemmour told supporters in reference to Macron. "I call on my voters to vote for Marine Le Pen."
Key campaign ally Marion Marechal, who is also Le Pen's niece, told TF1 television that there was no doubt who voters should pick on April 24.
She warned them that Macron was “the president of massive immigration, the president of insecurity, the president of deindustrialization."
Zemmour, who campaigned for a hard-line approach to immigration, Islam and security, won just 6.8-7% of the vote in Sunday's first round.
'No question' EU would prefer Macron
The European Union has a clear favorite going into the French runoff, but their position will not be made public, noted DW correspondent Jack Parrock.
"There's no question that the institutions of the European Union would prefer a reelected Macron. They will not tell you that. There's never going to be an official position," Parrock said, speaking from Brussels.
"But Marine Le Pen is known in Brussels, she sat as an MEP for a long time and her anti-EU stance is well known," he added.
Stinging defeat for socialists and conservatives
The first round projections have also revealed a sharp decline in support for two parties that previously dominated French politics.
Valerie Pecresse, the candidate for the conservative Republicans, trailed behind with 4.8% of the vote.
The center-left Socialists previously held the French presidency under Francois Hollande, but their candidate is projected to get just 2.1%
Le Pen behind despite campaigning push
Elsewhere in the French capital, supporters of Le Pen and supporters of the far-right politician celebrated her second place position.
But the gap between herself and the French president is likely to be a source of disappointment, DW correspondent Lisa Louis said.
"Macron gained in the polls after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. But in recent weeks, that effect waned. Le Pen had campaigned throughout France, going to cities, to towns, to markets telling people that she would help with their No.1 priority — spending power," Louis said speaking from Le Pen's campaign headquarters.
Paris mayor endorses Macron, calls for left-wing unity
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who was running as the center-left Socialist candidate, said she supported President Macron going into the runoff election later this month.
Hidalgo, who is on track to secure only 2.1% of the vote, called on France's left-wing parties to hold a joint primary in the future to avoid fracturing the vote.
"I know that if we don't come together, there will be no possibility for this left to continue to exist in our country," the Paris mayor said in an interview with broadcaster TF1.
Macron secures 'healthy lead' for second round
Cheers arose from Macron's campaign headquarters when the exit polls were announced.
DW political correspondent Barbara Wesel said his lead over Le Pen could help him in the coming weeks.
"His [Macron's] strategic mistake was to start his reelection campaign too late. The French public didn't take to that too well. But with a five-point lead, Macron can get momentum back and has a healthy lead for the second round," she said from Paris.
Exit polls: Macron and Le Pen set to face off in second round
French President Emmanuel Macron looks set to advance to the second round of the presidential election after exit polls put him getting 28.1%, according to public broadcaster France 2.
Far-right challenger Marine Le Pen is in close second place with 23.1%.
In third place was hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon with 20%.
The figures will continue to be updated as initial results roll in throughout the evening.
Watch live when the exit polls are announced
Official exit polls will soon be released once polling stations close at 1800 GMT/UTC.
DW will have the latest developments on the election and you can watch our coverage of the first round of elections live here.
Shanghai lockdown prevents French expats from voting
A strict coronavirus lockdown in the Chinese city of Shanghai meant thousands of French expats were unable to vote in the first round presidential election on Sunday.
France's electoral laws require voters to cast their ballots or by proxy, as there is no mail-in voting. Chinese authorities did not permit polling stations for expats to open, the French Embassy in Beijing said.
An estimated 4,500 expat voters were affected by the move, reported the Le Monde newspaper.
French officials are currently working on ensuring that voters in Shanghai can participate in the runoff election that is slated to take place on April 24.
China is currently battling its worst wave of COVID-19 infections since the pandemic began.
Exit polls just 2 hours away
Two hours remain until the first exit polls in France's first round presidential election come out.
Candidates and party staff are busy preparing for the first numbers to emerge this evening, which are due to be published at 1800 GMT/UTC.
DW correspondent Lisa Louis is standing by at Marine Le Pen's headquarters in Paris, where the far-right candidate hopes her performance in the polls will secure her spot in the runoff.
Evening voter turnout down from 2017
Voter turnout on Sunday continues to remain lower than the 2017 election, according to the latest figures.
France's Interior Ministry said that by 5 p.m. (1500 UTC/GMT), voter turnout was 65%.
At the same time during the last election in 2017, voter turnout was 69.4% — marking a significant decrease.
Analysts have warned that turnout during the first round vote this year could be the lowest since the direct popular vote for president was introduced in 1962.
Macron, Le Pen cast their ballots
The two main contenders in France's first round vote cast their ballots at local polling stations.
Macron voted at a station in Le Touquet on the northern French coast, smiling as he walked in with his wife Brigitte around lunchtime.
Len Pen also cast her ballot in northern France, in the town of Henin-Beaumont.
Due to France's election laws, both candidates are not allowed to campaign while voting is ongoing — so statements to the press were restricted to just smiles.
Election turnout lower than in 2017 at midday
Voter turnout in the first round of the French presidential election on Sunday was 25.5% by midday (1000 GMT), the Interior Ministry said.
It's below the 28.5% participation rate in the 2017 poll.
Polling stations across mainland France opened at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) and will close at 1800 GMT, when the first exit polls will be published. Such polls are usually very reliable in France.
Also, French law mandates media outlets to observe "electoral silence," meaning they're prohibited from publishing poll numbers or projections until the voting ends.
In addition, all the presidential candidates are barred from campaigning from Friday midnight until 1800 GMT today.
France's top contenders: Who's proposing what
Incumbent President Emmanuel Macron:
Macron is promising "full employment," after the French jobless rate fell during his term to its lowest level in decades.
He also wants to increase the minimum monthly pension and raise the retirement age from 62 to 65, a proposal that appears to be deeply unpopular with a majority of French voters.
Macron has pledged to bolster France's nuclear program by building six new-generation reactors, while reinforcing efforts to produce more solar and wind power.
He has also vowed to boost French military capabilities in light of the growing security threats, particularly after Russia's war in Ukraine.
Macron's main rival, Far-right leader Marine Le Pen:
Marine Le Pen focused largely on issues such as the rising cost of living and immigration during her campaign.
She wants to cut taxes on energy and essential goods in a bid to combat price rises. She has vowed to maintain the minimum retirement age at 62 and raise the minimum pension.
When it comes to energy policy, Le Pen wants to dismantle wind farms and invest in nuclear and hydropower.
On immigration, Le Pen is proposing an end to family reunification policies and tightened restrictions on who can receive French social benefits.
She also promised a law banning the wearing of headscarves in all public places.
Far-left leader Jean Luc Melenchon:
Jean Luc Melenchon promises to raise France's minimum wage and minimum pension, and lower the retirement age to 60.
With strong emphasis on social justice, he wants to re-establish a wealth tax and lock in energy and food prices.
Unlike Macron and Le Pen, Melenchon wants to phase out nuclear power and aim for 100% renewable energy instead.
No mail-in ballots and seldom use of electronic machines
French voters will have to either vote in person or by proxy, the country has no mail-voting established and electronic machines are not widely used.
But for those who can't physically make it to the ballot, they can authorize someone else to vote for them. This process is done through a form that the individual fills out and brings to a French police station, well ahead of the election. A person can be the proxy of no more than one voter living in France and potentially one additional person living abroad.
Some 7% of votes were cast by proxy in the last presidential election five years ago.
Even though the pandemic is still ongoing, France has not adopted mail-in voting, which was banned in 1975 amid fears of potential fraud. Macron's centrist government tried to pass an amendment to allow early voting by machine to encourage electoral, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But the Senate, led by a conservative majority, rejected the measure.
France experimented with electronic voting in 2002, but the purchase of new machines has been frozen since 2008 due to security concerns. Only a few dozen towns still use them.
High stakes for President Macron
The stakes of the election are high for French President Emmanuel Macron. Until just weeks ago, opinion polls pointed to an easy win for Macron.
But his late entry into campaigning and his focus on an unpopular plan to raise the retirement age, have dented the president's ratings.
The French are also increasingly concerned over steep rises in food and energy prices, which have become dominant election themes.
If Macron wins the election, he would be the first French president since Jacques Chirac in 2002 to win a second term.
A crowded field in the first round
As many as 12 candidates, including President Emmanuel Macron, from across the French political spectrum are competing in the first round of the election.
Polls predict that Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen will lead the pack in the first round and advance to the second round. And far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon is likely to finish in third place.
The candidates of France's traditional parties, the right-wing Republicans and the Socialists on the left, are expected to be ejected in the first round.
The election outcome will be viewed closely across Europe, as it will have an impact not only on France's political landscape but also on the EU in the coming years.
Macron is seen as a pro-European Union centrist, but his main challengers Le Pen and the far-left leader Melenchon are known for being euroskeptics.
Voters head to the polls in France
The French are casting their ballots in the first round of the presidential election on Sunday.
About 48.7 million voters are registered across France to vote in this election.
The top two candidates from the first round on Sunday will qualify for the runoff due to be held on April 24.
Surveys predict a weak turnout with as many as 30% of voters expected to stay home.
rs, sri/jcg, aw (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)