French election: Emmanuel Macron in pole position to become president

Outsider tipped to beat Marine Le Pen in battle for France's political soul

(Image credit: Joel Saget, Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images)

Emmanuel Macron will face the Front National's Marine Le Pen for the French presidency after topping the country's first round of voting

Macron, a fresh-faced 39-year-old who began the race as a rank outsider, secured 24 per cent of the vote to become the moderates' hope to keep Le Pen out of the Elysees Palace in the second and final round of voting on 7 May.

A banker who served as a financial adviser in President Francois Hollande's administration in 2012, until Sunday Macron had never run for elected office.

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It has also been a remarkable race for Le Pen, whose efforts to detoxify the party she inherited from her father have paid off in spectacular fashion, winning the Front National 21.9 per cent of the first round vote, which was its best performance ever.

The surge in support for a nationalist, xenophobic party "incompatible with our values" is a "warning for the state of our democracy", says French daily Le Monde, and "must trigger… a stern rebuttal" from French voters next month.

Macron and Le Pen are the embodiment of the current state of France, politically polarised by gaping economic inequality, says Le Figaro's Mathieu Slama.

Macron's electorate is the France which is doing well, making money, hopeful for the future, he writes, meanwhile "Le Pen's France is the France that suffers, that worries about making ends meet at the end of the month."

But irrespective of whether it is Macron or Le Pen who ultimately triumphs, with the two major political parties shut out of the race for the first time in modern French history, "France is set upon a new political course", says The Guardian.

But it does leave French voters with a clear choice between hope and hate, says the paper: "France must stand up again in two weeks’ time and complete the job by electing Mr Macron."

But, although early polls are predicting a landslide victory over Le Pen next month, nothing is guaranteed, says Le Parisien.

In the final days of the campaign, Macron's lead over fellow candidates Francois Fillon and Jean-Luc Melenchon shrank dramatically as Macron-mania gave way to anxieties about his meteoric rise and glibly centrist platform.

With those questions still unanswered, "Macron knows he can't afford to put a foot wrong", says the paper.

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