French far-right candidate Zemmour endorses Le Pen for runoff

Voting started at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) and ends at 1800 GMT when the first exit polls will be published.

A combination picture shows five of the twelve candidates for the 2022 French presidential election, L-R: Marine Le Pen, French President Emmanuel Macron, Jean-Luc Melenchon, Valerie Pecresse and Eric Zemmour, after the official announcement in Paris, France. Picture taken in 2021 and 2022. (photo credit:  REUTERS/STAFF)
A combination picture shows five of the twelve candidates for the 2022 French presidential election, L-R: Marine Le Pen, French President Emmanuel Macron, Jean-Luc Melenchon, Valerie Pecresse and Eric Zemmour, after the official announcement in Paris, France. Picture taken in 2021 and 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/STAFF)

French hard-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour endorsed fellow far-right challenger Marine Le Pen for a runoff vote against incumbent Emmanuel Macron on April 24.

Speaking to supporters after failing to qualify for the runoff, the former journalist said he had differences with Le Pen but "I don't doubt who is the adversary. That's why I call on my supporters to vote for Marine Le Pen."

France's incumbent leader Emmanuel Macron and far-right challenger Marine Le Pen will qualify for an April 24 presidential election runoff, initial projections by four pollsters showed after voting closed on Sunday.

Macron led Le Pen in the first round, the separate estimates by Ifop, OpinionWay, Elabe and Ipsos showed. Macron won 28.1-29.5% of votes while Le Pen won 23.3-24.4% of voter support, they projected.

That outcome would set up a duel between an economic liberal with a globalist outlook in Macron and a deeply eurosceptic economic nationalist who, until the Ukraine war, was an open admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

French centre-left candidate Anne Hidalgo, who did not qualify for the second round of the presidential election, endorsed French President Emmanuel Macron for the runoff vote.

  French citizens vote in Jerusalem school for the French presidential election, April 10, 2022.  (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) French citizens vote in Jerusalem school for the French presidential election, April 10, 2022. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

"So that France does not fall into hatred of all against all, I solemny call on you to vote on April 24 against the far-right of Marine Le Pen," she said.

Under a first estimate by polling firm IFOP Hidalgo was set to win 1.9% of the first-round vote.

Not for two decades has a French president won a second term.

French conservative presidential candidate Valerie Pecresse said on Sunday that she would vote for President Emmanuel Macron in the second round of the presidential election on April 24.

"(Far-right challenger Marine Le Pen's) historical proximity with Vladimir Putin discredits her from defending the interests of our country in these tragic times. Her election would mean that France would become irrelevant on the European and international scenes. Therefore, and despite my strong disagreement with Macron ...I will vote for him in order to stop Marine Le Pen," Pecresse said in a speech to supporters.

The Green's candidate in France's presidential election, Yannick Jadot, on Sunday endorsed Emmanuel Macron for the runoff round of voting between the incumbent leader and far-right challenger Marine Le Pen on April 24.

"I call on Green voters to block the far right by giving their vote to Emmanuel Macron," Jadot told supporters.

French hardleft candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon called on his supporters not to vote for far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in the second round of the presidential election on April 24.

"We know for whom we will never vote ...you should not support Le Pen ... there must not be one single vote for Le Pen in second round," Melenchon said in a speech to his supporters on Sunday.

Polling firm Ifop estimated that Melenchon would win 20.8% of the first-round votes.

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said on Sunday she would heal France's divisions if she is elected president in a runoff vote against Emmanuel Macron on April 24.

"I intend without waiting to sew back up the tears that a torn-apart France suffers from which now power has been able to do until now," Le Pen told supporters shortly after she qualified for the runoff against Macron in a first round of voting.

France's largest labor union, the CFDT, on Sunday called on its members to vote for President Emmanuel Macron in the second round of presidential election, in order to make sure far-right candidate Marine Le Pen does not become president.

"This call is neither an endorsement of the outgoing president's record nor an endorsement of his program," the CFDT said in a statement.

An Ifop estimate of first-round results showed that Pecresse would not qualify for the second round, winning just 4.6% of the first-round votes.

Barely a month ago, Macron appeared near-certain to reverse that trend, riding high in polls thanks to strong economic growth, a fragmented opposition and his statesman role in trying to avert war on Europe's eastern flank.

But he has paid the price for late entry into the campaign during which he eschewed market walkabouts in provincial France in favor of a single big rally outside Paris. A plan to make people work longer has also proved unpopular.

By contrast, Le Pen has for months toured towns and villages across France, focusing on cost-of-living issues that trouble millions and tapping into deep-seated anger towards the distant political elite.

A more than 10 point lead Macron had enjoyed as late as mid-March evaporated and voter surveys ahead of the first round showed his margin of victory in an eventual runoff whittled down to within the margin of error.

"I'm scared of the political extremes," said pensioner Therese Eychenne, 89, after voting for Macron in Paris. "I don't know what would become of France."

INVESTOR NERVES

Investors took note of Le Pen's surge. The yield on French 5- and 10-year government bonds hit multi-year highs last week. 

A Le Pen victory on April 24 would constitute a similar jolt to the establishment as Britain's Brexit vote to leave the European Union (EU) or Donald Trump's 2017 entry into the White House.

France, the EU's second-largest economy, would lurch from being a driving force for European integration to being led by a euro-skeptic who is also suspicious of the NATO military alliance.

While Le Pen has ditched past ambitions for a "Frexit" or to haul France out of the euro zone's single currency, she envisages the EU as a mere alliance of sovereign states.

Who next holds the Elysee Palace will depend on how those who backed Macron and Le Pen's rivals cast their ballots.

In past elections in 2002 and 2017, voters on the left and right have united to block the far-right from power.

However, surveys suggest that the so-called "republican front" has crumbled, with many left-wing voters saying they are loathe to endorse a leader they deride as arrogant and a "president of the rich."

"We want change, so why not give her a chance (in round two)?" technician Alex Talcone said in the Paris suburb of Bobigny after voting for hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon.