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French presidential election: Emmanuel Macron to face Marine Le Pen in runoff

Projections point to French President Emmanuel Macron up against Marine Le Pen in the April 24 runoff election. The incumbent said the next two weeks will be "decisive" for France.

Emmanuel Macron wins first round of elections

French President Emmanuel Macron will go head-to-head against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in a runoff later this month, after the two secured the most votes in the first round of France's presidential election. 

Exit polls released Sunday evening put the two leading the pack out of a crowded field of 12 presidential candidates.

Where do the candidates stand?

Incumbent French President Emmanuel Macron, a centrist, is running for reelection.

Macron's term has been marked by ups and downs. The so-called yellow vest movement in 2018 was triggered by his business-friendly policies and tax cuts for the wealthy.

With his term coming to an end, he is leading opinion polls.

He seemed to have put aside traditional campaigning — until two weeks ago — and rather focused on diplomatic efforts, most notably with Russia and Ukraine. 

President Emmanuel Macron smiles to residents after voting for the first round of the presidential election in Le Touquet, France

Macron smiled as he greeted local residents after casting his ballot in the northern town of Le Touquet earlier on Sunday

Macron's opponent will be far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who also faced off against him during the 2017 presidential election.

Unlike Macron, Le Pen has been campaigning for months, focusing on inflation and incomes. 

But she has been criticized in Europe for her 2017 stance against the EU and NATO — currently two major players in the response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 

She also has drawn controversy for wanting to ban Muslim headscarves in public, as well as getting rid of halal and kosher butchers. Le Pen has also campaigned for years in favor of significantly reducing immigration from outside Europe.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen leaves the voting booth before voting in the first round of the presidential election

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen pictured ahead of casting her ballot in Sunday's poll

When is the next round?

France will head to the polls again on Sunday, April 24 to vote in the second round.

Around 48.7 million voters are registered for the election, but it remains to be seen whether voter participation will rise for the second round.

The next few weeks will likely see more intensive campaigning, particularly from Macron, as he seeks to secure a second term.

New polls released late Sunday indicate a close second round. 

The Ifop-Fiducial group said Macron would receive 51% of the vote to Le Pen's 49%. Meanwhile, the Elabe group projected Macron would receive 52% to Le Pen's 48%.

What have the reactions been?

Macron urged citizens to block his far-right challenger from the presidency, and said "nothing was decided yet" after the first round of voting. 

Le Pen said the second round of the presidential election offers voters "two opposing visions for the future."

"What is at stake on April 24 is not a choice of circumstances, but a choice of society, a choice for civilization," she said. 

Other candidates who fell behind in the voting railed against Le Pen.

Left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, who came in third place, urged citizens to "not give a single vote to Madame Le Pen."

Conservative candidate Valerie Pecresse called on voters to support Macron, saying if Le Pen ascends to the presidency there would be "disastrous consequences for the country and for future generations."

What are the main issues? 

France's response to the war in Ukraine, strains on the health system triggered by two years of the coronavirus pandemic and the economy are all high among voter concerns.

Tackling a surge in energy and food prices has been at the core of most of the candidates' campaigns.

rs, wd/aw, kb (AFP, Reuters)

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