French President Emmanuel Macron will go head to head with far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen in a presidential runoff vote later this month — marking a rematch of their 2017 contest.
Macron, 44, and Le Pen, 53, came out on top during the first round of voting on Sunday in the country’s presidential election, but with neither capturing 50 percent of the vote.
The two candidates will face off for a winner-takes-all vote on April 24.
While centrist Macron beat Le Pen five years ago in a runoff, opinion polls currently show that his far-right challenger is much closer to a potential win this time.
A poll from Ifop-Fiducial for French broadcasters TF1 and LCI revealed late Sunday that Macron had a slim lead with 51 percent of votes to Le Pen’s 49 percent.
Many of the 10 presidential candidates who were defeated in the first round Sunday encouraged voters to choose Macron in the second round, including conservative candidate Valérie Pécresse, and the Green and Socialist candidates. Pécresse warned of “the chaos that would ensue” if Le Pen was elected. Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who came in third in Sunday’s vote, urged voters not to choose Le Pen, implicitly suggesting that staying at home could be an option.
Le Pen was backed by the other far-right candidate, former TV pundit Eric Zemmour.
With all first-round votes counted Monday, Macron had 27.8% support, Le Pen captured 23.1% and Melenchon was third with close to 22%.
When Le Pen campaigned on more extreme views in the last election, Macron beat her 66 percent to 33 percent.
Le Pen, who is the leader of the National Rally, is best known for wanting to roll back some rights for Muslims, including banning them from wearing headscarves in public, and to drastically reduce immigration from outside Europe.
On her third attempt to become France’s first woman president, Le Pen has run a more mainstream campaign focusing on the need to combat rising energy and food prices that have hit poorer households especially hard.
As her popularity has risen in recent weeks, Macron has accused Le Pen of pushing a dangerous manifesto of racist and ruinous policies.
Many of the 10 presidential candidates who were defeated in the first round on Sunday have since encouraged voters to choose Macron in the second round of voting.
The outcome of the election will likely have international influence as Europe struggles in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
While Macron has strongly backed European Union sanctions on Russia, Le Pen has instead worried about their impact on French living standards.
Following Sunday’s vote, Macron kicked off his runoff campaign in an economically depressed area of northern France where the majority of residents voted for Le Pen.
“I’m here, and I’m determined to fight,” he said during his visit to the town of Denain, adding that he heard the concerns of people who struggle to find a job and earn more money.
Le Pen met with her party officials before heading to visit a cereal producer in the Burgundy region to speak about rising prices and making “strong, urgent decisions to protect the purchasing power of the French.”
Le Pen’s camp is hoping to capitalize on anger at Macron over policies seen as favoring the rich.
“Now everything is possible,” Aurélien Lopez Liguori, a councilor with Le Pen’s party in the southern city of Sete, told the Associated Press, adding that, compared with 2017, “now Macron has a record, a bad record.”
Macron and Le Pen are to debate on national television next week.
With Post wires