French Election Will Signal Nation's Commitment to Economic Reform

With 96 percent of polling stations declared in the first round of voting Sunday, the former economics minister and investment banker had won 23.7 percent, beating far-right leader Marine Le Pen into second place on 21.8 percent.

Both centre-right and centre-left fell in behind Mr Macron, whose optimistic vision of a tolerant France and a united Europe with open borders is a stark contrast to Ms Le Pen's darker, inward-looking "French-first" platform, which calls for closed borders, tougher security, less immigration and dropping the euro to return to the French franc.

SUAREZ: What does this tell us about the political state of play in France to have essentially two outsiders, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, finish first and second?

These results indicate that the traditional Left-Right political cleavage, that has shaped French politics since the 1958 constitutional revision that instituted the fifth Republic, has exploded.

Addressing the battle ahead, he declared he would seek to break with a system that "has been incapable of responding to the problems of our country for more than 30 years".

Fillon secured 19.91 percent of the vote in the first round and far-left contender Jean-Luc Melenchon 19.64 percent.

Analysts say Le Pen's best chance of hauling back Macron's big lead in the polls is to paint him as a part of an elite aloof from ordinary French people and their problems.

We always knew that this election would take France into uncharted political waters.

Hiring freeze or thaw?

"As a result, we expect some recovery in French bond prices, while the euro is also likely to benefit", he said. His wife, Brigitte, joined him on stage before his speech - the only couple among the leading candidates to do so Sunday night.

"This is a historic result and now I have the huge responsibility to defend the French nation, its unity, its security, its culture, its prosperity and its independence", she said.

Marine Le Pen's victory Sunday evening indicates that this is not the case.

France is now steaming into unchartered territory, because whoever wins on May 7 can not count on the backing of France's political mainstream parties.

Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve called for "a clear and strong position of all Republicans", to throw a spanner at Le Pen who is vying to occupy the Elysee Palace for the next five years. Simply put, the National Front remains highly controversial and Le Pen's candidacy is likely to mobilize many voters to turn out in the final round to support her opponent. Officers fired tear gas to disperse the rowdy crowd.

Protesters burned cars, danced around bonfires and dodged riot police overnight at the Place de la Bastille and Republique in Paris.

Seconds after the first projections came through, Macron supporters at a Paris conference centre had burst into the national anthem, the Marseillaise. "There is not one domain that he shows one ounce of patriotism", she said. He has argued that France's economy can become more competitive if it embraces globalization and doubles down on free trade. The two front-runners will face each other in a second vote on May 7.

Le Pen offers an alternative for anyone skeptical of the European Union and France's role in it, said Louis Aliot, another National Front vice president.

Addressing his followers, Mr Melenchon said the country was "facing a new world" and "liberty and equality" must prevail.

"The National Front defines the discussion and the course of the dialogue".

Seven other candidates, including the ruling Socialist party's Benoit Hamon, are lagging far behind. Proclaiming that "the left is not dead", he also urged supporters to back Macron.

  • Larry Hoffman