France's defeated political establishment has begun to rally against the far-right leader Marine Le Pen as she goes head-to-head against political novice Emmanuel Macron in the final race for the French presidency.
As Le Pen celebrated the highest-ever voting tally for her Front National party, candidates knocked out in the first round began to endorse Macron, who ended his insurgent campaign with a result that confounded expectations.
Macron, a pro-European centrist, took first place with 23.9%, while the anti-immigrant, anti-EU Le Pen came second on 21.4%, with 97% of polling stations declared on Monday. Both go through to a runoff on May 7 after emerging top of a fractured field of 11 candidates in the first round.
The result amounted to a comprehensive rejection of traditional politics in France. It is the first time since the establishment of the fifth French Republic in 1958 that no candidate from the two main political parties of the left and right have failed to make it into the second round of the presidential vote.
Macron goes through to the second round as the clear frontrunner, with most voters expected to switch to him from mainstream defeated candidates. Le Pen, meanwhile, faces an uphill struggle.The French stock markets rose on Monday morning, and the euro jumped to its highest level since November against the dollar as investors bet against the chances of Le Pen winning.
There was relief in Europe, too: Michel Barnier, the European Union's chief Brexit negotiator, described Macron as a "patriot".
The chief of staff for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the result showed France and Europe could "win together" and added: "The centre is stronger than the populists think."
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."
"We have to choose what is preferable for our country, and I am not going to rejoice. Abstention is not in my genes, especially when an extremist party is close to power," he said. "There is no other choice but to vote against the far right."
He argued that Le Pen's economic and social programs would bankrupt the country, particularly if France dropped the euro as its currency, as the far-right leader has threatened.
The Socialist Party's candidate, Benoit 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.
Hamon secured just 6.4% of the vote, a disastrous showing for the Socialist Party, whose candidate Francois Hollande won the presidency in 2012 but whose popularity has sunk during his term.
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."(Source: CNN)