Macron, Le Pen in French presidential runoff 0

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron have advanced to France’s presidential runoff scheduled for May 7. According to the preliminary results released late on Sunday, the two candidates are engaged in a close race as a spokesman for defeated candidate, François Fillon, says he has suffered ‘huge disappointment’. French interior ministry says with 33.2 million votes counted, Macron is leading with 23.11 percent of the votes and Le Pen with 23.08 percent. According to AFP, if this result is finally approved, it would put the eurosceptic, anti-immigration Le Pen within striking distance of the presidency in the forthcoming election.

Nearly 47 million voters cast their ballots on Sunday under tight security to decide whether to back a pro-EU centrist newcomer, a scandal-ridden veteran conservative who wants to slash public spending, a far-left eurosceptic admirer of Fidel Castro, or a first woman president who would shut borders to refugees and ditch the euro.

The final outcome of the French presidential poll is being anxiously monitored around the world as a sign of whether the populist tide that saw Britain vote to leave the EU and Donald Trump’s election in the United States is still rising or starting to ebb. Emmanuel Macron, 39, is a centrist ex-banker, who set up his party just a year ago. Before Sunday election, he was the opinion polls’ favorite to win the first round and beat Le Pen.

Months of campaigning has been marred by scandals, which have left many voters agonizing over their choice. A survey from Harris Interactive estimated the final abstention rate at 21.5 percent, while one from Ifop-Fiducial for Paris Match and CNews put the abstention rate at 19 percent.

The abstention rate was 20.52 percent in 2012, according to Interior Ministry figures. About 50,000 police and 7,000 soldiers have been deployed around France to protect voters in the wake of a policeman’s killing on Thursday.