Published: Sun, May 07, 2017
Global Media | By Garry Long

Old-guard rallies around newcomer Macron for French runoff

"Tonight, I am no longer the president of the National Front".

Marine Le Pen's decision to take a leave of absence from the day-to-day management of the party appeared to be an attempt to portray herself as being above the narrow world of National Front politics and broaden her appeal to the wider electorate ahead of the crucial runoff vote.

Macron, a left-leaning centrist, won with 23.75 percent of the vote, while Le Pen, a nationalist often compared to Donald Trump, came in second with 21.53 percent, according to the French Interior Ministry. (On the Move), late on Sunday told supporters, who were chanting "Macron president!", that he was humbled by the "tremendous responsibility thrust upon me".

While Macron had arranged to meet Whirlpool workers' union representatives without actually visiting the plant, Le Pen turned up unannounced outside the plant and posed for selfies with workers and attacked her rival.

The 48-year-old populist is fighting her second presidential campaign after coming in third in 2012, while the 39-year-old former investment banker is waging his first, having never held elected office.

Her manifesto includes a tax on the contracts of foreign workers and a requirement that retailers stock a certain percentage of French products.

Melenchon's France Insoumise (Unbowed France) movement is holding a consultation on which candidate to support, but his spokesman Alexis Corbiere said the hard-left firebrand would not endorse anyone. Voters rejected the two mainstream parties that have alternated power for decades in favor of Le Pen and the untested Macron, who has never held elected office and who founded his own political movement just a year ago. Surveys show that voters will unite behind Macron, not because he has a major agenda but due to the "anyone but Le Pen" sentiment. A month later, it wasn't Le Pen who announced that the French government would charter planes to forcibly deport undocumented immigrants.

Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie, made it into a presidential runoff against Jacques Chirac in 2002 and was crushed.

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The unlikely pair will face off in the final televised debate on May 3 - and there are likely to be fireworks, with Ms Le Pen doubling down, following her winning her party's highest-ever share of the vote.

As Macron was meeting with union leaders from the Whirlpool plant in northern France, Le Pen popped up outside the factory itself.

With 7.5 million votes, Marine Le Pen beat the National Front party's previous election record on Sunday but failed to pip pro-EU Macron to the first place.

Le Pen has called for France to take back control of its borders from the European Union and deport all foreigners on a terror watchlist, accusing Macron of being soft on security.

The election marks a historic break from French political norms, as socialists and the center-right have battled for the past 70 years for control of the nation.

The S&P financial sector climbed 2.2 per cent, its best day in nearly two months.

Even before Le Pen's surprise appearance at the plant, Macron's intervention in the Whirlpool factory's future, in a region where Le Pen got more votes in Sunday's first-round balloting, was fraught with risk.

A Harris survey saw Macron going on to win the run-off against her by 64 percent to 36.

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