PARIS -- The French people chose two candidates for president on Sunday who offer their nation opposite paths in Europe, with Emmanuel Macron, an independent and political novice, and Marine Le Pen, a far-Right nativist, passing to the election's final voting round.
Macron (En Marche!) and Le Pen (National Front) campaigned on conflicting sides of a debate over whether France should double down on its pivotal role within the European Union, or retreat from it.
Macron– France's youngest presidential candidate in history at just 39 years old and a former finance minister who has never held elected office– supports greater integration into the European project. Le Pen– a well-known firebrand and hyper-nationalist– seeks the destruction of the EU, a resumption of border checks across the continent and an end to dual citizenship for French nationals.
He has been compared to Barack Obama, who was in 2008 a young, inexperienced upstart candidate who shook up the American Left with a progressive notion of hope. She has been compared with frequency to Donald Trump, a fellow populist who rose to power on a harsh line against immigration from foreign lands and a dilution of the nation's demographic majority.
Their success is unprecedented in the Fifth Republic: They defeated weathered candidates from the Republicans and the Socialist Party, one of which has always been represented in the final round of voting since 1958.
Macron was projected to receive 23.7% of the vote, with Le Pen netting roughly 21.9%, according to early estimates. The French Interior Ministry will release final results in the coming hours.
Upon accepting defeat, both the Republicans and Socialist candidates– Francois Fillon and Benoît Hamon, respectively– threw their support behind Macron and encouraged party supporters to follow suit. Obama encouraged support for Macron, considered a center-Left figure, this past week. And a French American outlet reported earlier in the day that French citizens living in the US supported Macron more than any other candidate on Sunday.
His centrist policies and support from major parties make him the automatic frontrunner entering the second round, scheduled for May 7. But Le Pen has proven a formidable force, taking her party from the fringe into the final election with significantly more support than it has ever previously received.
Le Pen received tacit praise in recent days from US President Donald Trump, who warned that France faces dire security challenges. Members of Trump's inner circle have openly advocated for Le Pen in recent months, and she was spotted in Trump Tower in January, when one of her connections to Trump referred to her movement as the second Normandy landing.
"Very interesting election currently taking place in France," Trump tweeted earlier in the day.
In her victory speech, Le Pen called herself the "candidate of the people."
"Time to release the French people of arrogant elites who want to dictate conduct," Le Pen said, promising to end the "free circulation" of terrorists roaming the country. "The great debate will finally take place. The French must seize this historic opportunity."