Marine Le Pen 'steps down temporarily' as far-right National Front leader

He's been dubbed a "French John F Kennedy" with an "Olympic intelligence" and his win has seen endorsements from many political leaders in Europe who fear Le Pen will rip up the country's constitutional link with the union. "Ultimately, I don't think it will", Blair was quoted as saying past year.

The latest opinion polls indicate that Macron, a 39-year-old who has never held elected office, will win at least 61 percent of votes. 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. A vote for Le Pen would be a "risk", he said.

Mr Macron - who ran under the independent En Marche!

"If French people made the effort to read Le Pen's programme, they would understand how negative her proposals are", he said.

Republicans candidate Francois Fillon was seen as the favourite until January when his campaign was torpedoed by allegations that he gave his British-born wife a fictitious job as his parliamentary assistant. François Fillon of the Republican party finished third, while Benoît Hamon of the ruling Socialist Party came a distant fifth.

Le Pen finished just two points behind Macron on Sunday while earning her political party the most votes it's ever gotten.

Risks remain: Not only is there the runoff election for France in two weeks, but there is also a parliamentary election in June.

Addressing thousands of flag-waving supporters in Paris on Sunday evening, Macron said he aimed to unite "patriots" against "the threat of nationalists". After all, polls had completely failed to predict the wave of populist and anti-establishment sentiment that led to President Donald Trump's election in the USA, as well as the U.K.'s decision to exit the European Union.

She also heralded Britain's vote for Brexit and wants France to follow suit.

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

But her share of the vote was far below a March poll high of 27 per cent.

She has long distanced herself from her maverick father Jean-Marie, the former FN leader, and in the election campaign has put neither her party's name nor its trademark flame logo on her posters.

Sunday's first round capped a rollercoaster campaign in a demoralised France, which has been rocked by a series of terror attacks since 2015 and is struggling to shake off a deep economic malaise.

"It is obvious that the Western world will do anything to prevent Le Pen from gaining the presidential seat", The State Duma deputy with ruling United Russia party, Sergei Zheleznyak, told reporters on Monday.

  • Zachary Reyes