Pro-European centrist Emmanuel Macron resoundingly won France’s landmark presidential election on Sunday, first estimates showed, defeating far-right leader Marine Le Pen in a pivotal vote for the future of the divided country and Europe.
At 39, the former investment banker will be the country’s youngest-ever leader and faces a huge challenge to heal a fractured and demoralised country.
The vicious election campaign has exposed deep economic and social divisions, as well as tensions around identity and immigration.
“A new chapter in our long history begins tonight. I want it to be one of hope and renewed confidence,” Macron told AFP in a call shortly after results were released.
Initial estimates showed Macron winning between 65 percent and 66.1 percent of the ballots — a higher than expected score – and Le Pen scoring between 33.9 percent and 35 percent.
Unknown three years ago, Macron is now poised to become one of Europe’s most powerful leaders, bringing with him a hugely ambitious agenda of political and economic reform for France and the European Union.
The result will resonate worldwide and particularly in Brussels and Berlin where leaders will breathe a sigh of relief that Le Pen’s anti-EU, anti-globalisation programme has been defeated.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said it was a “victory for a strong and united Europe”, while EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said French voters had chosen a “European future.”
After Britain’s vote last year to leave the EU and Donald Trump’s victory in the US, the French election had been widely watched as a test of how high a tide of right-wing nationalism would rise.
“France is sending… an incredible message of hope to the world,” veteran centrist Francois Bayrou, an ally of Macron, told France 2 television. “Anyone who bet on this has probably made a fortune.”
Le Pen, 48, had portrayed the ballot as a contest between Macron and the “globalists” — in favour of open trade, immigration and shared sovereignty — and her “patriotic” vision of strong borders and national identities.
In a short statement, Le Pen said she had called Macron to wish him “success” in tackling the “huge challenges” he faced and announced that she would lead the FN into June’s parliamentary elections.