French voters couldn’t be more divided on the major issues of the day, election results proved Sunday, as Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen were the top vote-getters in the presidential election that will send them to a runoff next month.
Should the fiery Le Pen win the runoff next month, it could spell the end of the European Union, the euro and turn the nation in a “France first” direction. Macron is considered more of a centrist who would continue most of the policies of the past.
With final votes being counted, Macron leads Le Pen with 23.8 percent of the vote to 21.6.
The projected outcome capped an extraordinary few months for a deeply divided France, which saw a campaign full of twists and turns and a movement away from traditional parties.
The French vote was being closely watched as a bellwether for populist sentiment following the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. and Britain’s vote to leave the EU.
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Le Pen and Macron were considered the front-runners, according to most polls. If the trend continues, they will head to a run-off May 7.
The vote took place under heavy security after the killing on Thursday of a policeman on Paris’ Champs Elysees avenue claimed by the Islamic State group.
With France still under the state of emergency imposed after the Paris attacks of November 2015, around 50,000 police and 7,000 soldiers were deployed to guard voters.
Thursday’s shooting on the most famous street in Paris was the latest in a bloody series of terror attacks that have cost more than 230 lives since 2015.
Nearly 47 million people were eligible to vote in the eurozone’s second biggest economy.
Le Pen rode the growing wave of disaffection with globalism in the West that carried Trump to the White House and led Britain to vote for Brexit She has vowed to abandon the euro, hold a referendum on withdrawing from the EU and adopt a French-first policy on jobs, immigration and housing.
Macron, meanwhile, is a 39-year-old pro-EU reformers seeking to become France’s youngest-ever president despite never having held elected office. Tapping into anger with established parties, the former banker and economy minister formed his own movement, “En Marche” (On the Move), that he says is “neither to the left nor to the right.”
Closely watched around the world, the French campaign has been full of twists and turns.