French polls: Macron and his far-right rival Le Pen face the second round | Food and cooking

By JOHN LEICESTER and THOMAS ADAMSON – Associated Press

PARIS (AP) — French polling agencies predicted on Sunday that President Emmanuel Macron and far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen were heading for another runoff in the country’s presidential election, with their fierce political rivalry and their sharply opposing views diverging from 10 other candidates in the crowded first round of voting.

If confirmed by the official vote count later Sunday evening, initial pollster projections mean France is bracing for a repeat of the 2017 head-to-head contest that made Macron the youngest president in the world. France – but there is no guarantee this time that the outcome will be the same.

Le Pen this time tapped into the main issue on the minds of many French voters: the costs of food, gas and heating that have soared amid the disruptions of the war in Ukraine and the economic repercussions of Western sanctions against Russia.

The outcome of the French elections will have wide international influence as Europe struggles to contain the devastation wrought by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Macron has strongly supported European Union sanctions against Russia while Le Pen has publicly expressed concern about their impact on French living standards. Macron is also a strong supporter of NATO and close collaboration between the 27 members of the European Union.

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Macron, a 44-year-old political centrist, won a landslide victory five years ago but is preparing for a much tougher battle on April 24 against his 53-year-old political foe. Le Pen is promising seismic change for France – both domestically and internationally – if she is elected the country’s first female president, and seems closer than ever to having a chance of reaching the presidential Elysee Palace.

Projections showed both Macron and Le Pen on track to improve their performance in the first round of 2017, underscoring how increasingly polarized French politics has become. Macron was expected to secure a sizable first-round lead of around 28% support, ahead of Le Pen’s 23%-24% vote.

Projections showed far-left brandon Jean-Luc Melenchon – one of six candidates on the left – finishing third in the second round, with around 20% support.

Macron for months looked like a shoo-in to become the first French president in 20 years to win a second term. But National Rally leader Le Pen eroded his lead in the polls in the latter stages of the campaign, as the pain of inflation became a dominant electoral theme for many low-income voters.

“The French people honored me by qualifying me for the second round,” Le Pen said Sunday evening, thanking her supporters and calling on those who did not vote for Macron to support her in the second round.

Le Pen appeared to be targeting left-leaning Melechon supporters in particular, promising “social justice” and solutions for “a France torn apart.” His supporters celebrated with champagne and interrupted his speech by chanting “We will win!”

Yet some of his defeated rivals were so alarmed by the possibility of Le Pen defeating Macron in the presidential run-off that they urged their supporters on Sunday to roll over their second-round votes to the incumbent. Mélenchon, addressing supporters who sometimes shed tears, repeated three times that Le Pen should not get “a single vote”.

Describing herself as ‘deeply concerned’, defeated conservative candidate Valérie Pécresse warned of ‘the chaos that would ensue’ if Le Pen were elected, saying the far-right leader had never been so close to power . Pecresse said she would vote for Macron in the second round.

Pollsters suggest just a few percentage points could separate familiar foes in France’s second-round vote, setting up a second-round campaign likely to be far more divisive than the first round, which was largely overshadowed by the war in Ukraine.

After Le Pen deposited the blue envelope containing her choice in a ballot box in the northern town of Hénin-Beaumont, she said “given the situation in the country and in the world”, the result of Sunday’s elections could determine “not only the next five years, but probably the next 50 years” in France.

In the EU of 27, only France has a nuclear arsenal and a right of veto in the UN Security Council.

To beat Le Pen in the second round, Macron must set aside his years-long rebranding efforts to make himself look less extreme, a makeover that even highlighted his love of cats. Macron accused Le Pen of pushing an extremist manifesto of racist and ruinous policies. Le Pen wants to ban the Muslim headscarf on French streets and halal and kosher butchers, and drastically reduce immigration from outside Europe.

His softer image won over some voters but made others even more suspicious.

Yves Maillot, a retired engineer, said he voted for Macron only to counterbalance Le Pen. He said he feared his longstanding hostility to the EU could see him trying to get France out of the bloc, even if it removed it from its manifesto.

“I don’t think she’s changed at all,” he said. “It’s the same thing, but with cats.”

Elaine Ganley, Sylvie Corbet and Patrick Hermansen in Paris contributed

Follow all AP stories about the French presidential election on https://apnews.com/hub/french-election-2022

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