French President Francois Hollande today urged voters to reject far-right leader Marine Le Pen in next month’s presidential runoff against pro-EU candidate Emmanuel Macron. Macron is the clear favourite to become France’s youngest-ever president after topping yesterday’s first round of voting with 24.01 percent of votes, ahead of National Front (FN) leader Le Pen on 21.30 percent, according to final results. The vote revealed a country deeply divided, with 39- year-old Macron, an advocate of open borders and free trade, leading the vote in cities and Le Pen topping the polls in rural areas that feel left behind by globalisation.
In a solemn address to voters, Hollande warned of the “risk for our country” of a far-right victory and said he himself would vote for Macron, who served as his economy minister for two years. The Socialist president joined a long line of politicians urging voters to back Macron in order to thwart the anti- immigration, anti-EU Le Pen. Le Pen seized on the flurry of endorsements for Macron from the ruling Socialists and main opposition Republicans — both of which crashed out in the first round — as proof he was the choice of the discredited old guard.
Visiting a market in the northern town of Rouvroy today, 48-year-old Le Pen lashed out at the “rotten old republican front” — the ad-hoc anti-FN coalition formed by mainstream parties whenever the party is at the gates of power. “I’ve come here to start the second round campaign in the only way I know — on the ground with the French people,” she said. Macron received several congratulatory calls today from European leaders relieved to find him in pole position. Thanking Hollande in a tweet for his support, the former investment banker called on the French to “remain true to France’s values” in the May 7 runoff.