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In France, it’s Macron vs Le Pen, again, for presidency

PARIS (AP) – Incumbent Emmanuel Macron will face far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen in a winner-takes-all runoff for the French presidency, after they both advanced on Sunday in the first round of voting in the country’s election to set up another head-to-head clash of their sharply opposing visions for France.

But while Macron won their last contest in 2017 by a landslide to become France’s youngest-ever president, the same outcome this time is far from guaranteed. Macron, now 44, emerged ahead from Sunday’s first round, but the runoff is essentially a new election and the next two weeks of campaigning to the April 24 second-round vote promise to be bruising and confrontational against his 53-year-old political nemesis.

Savvier and more polished as she makes her third attempt to become France’s first woman president, Le Pen was handsomely rewarded on Sunday at the ballot box for her years-long effort to rebrand herself as more pragmatic and less extreme.

On Sunday, she racked up her best-ever first-round tally of votes. With most votes counted, Macron had just over 27 per cent and Le Pen had just under 24 per cent. Hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon was third, missing out on the two-candidate runoff, with close to 22 per cent.

Macron also improved on his first-round showing in 2017, despite his presidency being rocked by an almost unrelenting series of both domestic and international crises. They include Russia’s war in Ukraine that overshadowed the election and diverted his focus from the campaign.

With polling suggesting that the runoff against Le Pen could be close, Macron immediately started throwing his energies into the battle.

Addressing supporters on Sunday night who chanted “five more years”, Macron warned that “nothing is done” and said the runoff campaign will be “decisive for our country and for Europe”.

“I want to reach out to all those who want to work for France,” he said. He vowed to “implement the project of progress, of French and European openness and independence we have advocated for.”

French President and Centrist Presidential candidate for re-election Emmanuel Macron. PHOTO: AP