Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will face off in the French presidential election on April 24th, for the second time in five years.
Exit polls last night showed Mr Macron to have won about 28 per cent of the first-round vote, compared with 23 per cent for Ms Le Pen.
The Ifop-Fiducial polling institute predicted the incumbent president would again defeat Ms Le Pen, but by only two percentage points, at 51 to 49 per cent, which is within the margin of error.
Mr Macron will hold rallies in northern France today, in the east of the country tomorrow and in Marseille on Saturday, his entourage said.
The French president’s first term has been characterised by crisis, including the yellow vests revolt, the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
“Do we want a France that can face the present crises and the future by placing confidence in science and reason?” he asked a crowd that chanted “Macron président!”
Mr Macron said he wanted “a France that is faithful to humanism and the spirit of the Enlightenment. That is what is at stake on April 24th. That is the choice you will make”.
Ms Le Pen, who campaigned on the issue of cost of living, portrayed her programme as one of “social justice”. If elected, she would hold a referendum to change the constitution so that French citizens are given “national priority” over immigrants for jobs, housing, benefits and medical care.
In the run-off, Mr Macron said, “We can choose a new epoch for France and Europe. We can make the choice of hope for France and Europe together.”
Though Ms Le Pen no longer advocates leaving the European Union or the euro zone, analysts say her policies would amount to a surreptitious “Frexit”. She is allied with the nationalist populist Hungarian leader Viktor Orban and has in the past curried favour with the Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Except for Mr Macron, three out of four frontrunners in yesterday’s election represent extreme right and extreme left-wing parties. Extremist candidates won about 53 per cent of the vote.
Four candidates immediately called on their supporters to throw their second-round votes to Mr Macron, “to bar the way” for the extreme right.
Only one candidate, Éric Zemmour, the television polemicist who poached several figures from Le Pen’s Rassemblement National party, including her niece, Marion Maréchal, called on his supporters to vote for Ms Le Pen.