An anti-immigrant firebrand and an unconventional centrist were set Sunday to advance to a runoff in a tight race for France’s president, according to exit polls released immediately after balloting closed. If confirmed, the results set up a sharp confrontation between those who embrace globalization and those who want to roll it back. Centrist Emmanuel Macron placed first and far-right leader Marine Le Pen placed second in initial exit polls in the first round of France’s presidential election, advancing them to a head-to-head showdown in the runoff on May 7. It was poised to be a historic wipeout for the two political parties that have traded power in post-World War II France, with neither the Socialists nor the center-right descendants of Charles de Gaulle having a shot at the presidency. Center-right candidate Francois Fillon, a former front-runner, conceded defeat shortly after the exit polls were released, calling for patriotic French citizens to unite behind Macron to defeat Le Pen, whose party he said was known for “violence and intolerance.” The victor could determine whether the international alliances that formed the backbone of the post-World War II West strengthen or are shattered by the force of nationalism.
… If Le Pen wins, she will continue a global string of ballot-box revolutions that began last year with the British decision to leave the European Union and continued with the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president. With her fierce anti-immigration agenda and her vow to keep France for the French, she could be a Gallic counterpart to Trump. But if Macron is triumphant – and polls suggest he will be, by a margin of 30 percentage points – it could halt the transatlantic disruptions, at least for now.
In a year of populist drama, the closely watched election offered citizens sharply differing choices about France’s role in the world. The front-runners ranged from an ex-Trotskyist campaigner who wants to impose a maximum income to Le Pen, a hard-edged, anti-immigrant leader who wants to split from the European Union and reorient toward Russia.