PARIS, APR 24, (DNA) – Centrist Emmanuel Macron took a big step towards the French presidency on Sunday by winning the first round of voting and qualifying for a May 7 runoff alongside far-right leader Marine Le Pen.Though Macron, 39, is a comparative political novice who has never held elected office, new opinion polls on Sunday had him easily winning the final clash against the 48-year-old Le Pen.
Sunday’s outcome is a huge defeat for the two center-right and center-left groupings that have dominated French politics for 60 years, and also reduces the prospect of an anti-establishment shock on the scale of Britain’s vote last June to quit the European Union and the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president.
In a victory speech, Macron told supporters of his fledgling En Marche! (Onwards!) movement: “In one year, we have changed the face of French politics.” He went on to say he would bring in new faces and talent to transform a stale political system if elected.
Conceding defeat even before figures from the count came in, rival conservative and Socialist candidates urged their supporters now to put their energies into backing Macron and stopping any chance of a second-round victory by Le Pen, whose anti-immigration and anti-Europe policies they said spelled disaster for France.
A Harris survey taken on Sunday saw Macron winning the runoff by 64 percent to 36. An Ipsos/Sopra Steria poll gave a similar result.
As investors breathed a collective sigh of relief at what the market regarded as the best of several possible outcomes, the euro soared 2 percent to $1.09395 EUR= when markets opened in Asia before slipping back to around $1.0844.
It was the euro’s highest level since Nov. 10, the day after the results of the U.S. presidential election. France’s bluechip CAC 40 .FCHI was seen opening 2 percent higher on Monday.
In a race that was too close to call up to the last minute, Macron, a pro-EU ex-banker and former economy minister who founded his own party only a year ago, won 23.75 percent of the votes against 21.53 percent for Le Pen, final voting figures from the Interior Ministry showed.
Seconds after the first projections came through, Macron supporters at a Paris conference center had burst into the national anthem, the Marseillaise. Many were under 25, reflecting some of the appeal of a man aiming to become France’s youngest head of state since Napoleon.=DNA