Paris, April 24 (IANS) France’s defeated political establishment has begun to rally against far-right leader Marine Le Pen as she goes head-to-head against political newcomer Emmanuel Macron in the final race for the French presidency on May 7.
As Le Pen celebrated the highest-ever voting tally for her Front National (NF) party, candidates knocked out in the first round began to endorse Macron, who ended his insurgent campaign with a first-place finish that confounded expectations, CNN reported.
Anti-EU Le Pen received 21.42 per cent of votes, while Macron was leading in the first election round with 23.86 per cent, according to the preliminary results, published by the French Interior Ministry as having 97 per cent of votes counted.
Both go through to a runoff on May 7.
The result amounted to a comprehensive rejection of traditional politics in France.
It is the first time in six decades that neither of France’s main left-wing or right-wing parties has had a candidate in the second round.
Francois Fillon, the mainstream Republican candidate whose campaign foundered amid corruption allegations, emerged swiftly from his defeat with words of support for Macron.
“I promise you, extremism can only bring unhappiness and division to France,” he said, describing the National Front as a party of “violence” and “intolerance.”
“There is no other choice but to vote against the far right,” he said.
The Socialist Party’s candidate, Benoît Hamon, also warned against a Le Pen victory.
“I appeal to you in the strongest terms to beat the National Front by voting for Emmanuel Macron, even though he is not part of the Left,” Hamon wrote on Twitter.
French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve tweeted his support for Macron, calling on voters to back him in the second round “to combat the National Front’s disastrous project to take France backwards and to divide the French people”.
Government spokesperson Stephane Le Foll said that incumbent President Francois Hollande will also vote for Macron.
The European Union’s head office said France faces a choice between the defence of the EU and those “seeking its destruction”, the Telegraph reported.
The European Commission also waded into the contest as Macron was described as a “French John F. Kennedy” – while Le Pen accused him of being “weak” in the fight against Islamic terrorism.
Describing how circumstances had forced the hand of its President, Jean-Claude Juncker, a European Commission spokesman said “the choice was a fundamental one”, adding that Macron represents the pro-European values while Le Pen “seeks its destruction”.
Alexander Lambsdorff, a vice president of the European Parliament described Macron as a “French John F. Kennedy” and said his first-round victory is good news for Europe.
A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the boost for Macron shows “France AND Europe can win together!”, while Sigmar Gabriel, the German Foreign Minister, said a Macron victory would signal a “new beginning for Europe”.
Macron, who quit current Hollande’s Socialists only last year ago to launch En Marche party, described himself as the “patriotic choice for France” in a victory speech to his supporters.
His party pushes a liberal, pro-EU agenda.
His rival, Le Pen, took over the FN leadership from her father in January 2011.
Her party wants to slash immigration, clamp down on free trade, and overturn France’s relationship with Europe.
Following the first round results, Le Pen made an “appeal to all patriots”, saying a vote for her was the key to the “survival of France”.
Meanwhile, French police said six officers and three demonstrators were injured during election night violence.
Police said on Monday they had detained 29 people in the unrest between protesters and police at the Place de la Bastille in Paris.
Activists in Toulouse, Lyon, Bordeaux and Grenoble also staged protests that turned violent.
Also, stocks in France and exchanges in European markets opened with rosy note on Monday at the prospect of Macron winning the second round of presidential elections.
The euro jumped to a five-month high after the first round of voting.