French mavericks buck establishment, head to presidential runoff

French presidential election drama

France is one step closer to a new president.

The nation voted for change in a big way yesterday, and for the first time in modern history, voters turned away from the political mainstream.

Both the candidates who made it through to the runoff are mavericks in different ways, both bucking the powerful French establishment.

In first place is centrist Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker and economics minister, whose agenda borrowed ideas from the left and the right, without the backing of an official party.

Emmanuel Macron (left) and Marine Le Pen were the top two vote-getters in France’s presidential vote. They will head into a runoff election on May 7. THOMAS SAMSON, Lionel BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images

“In one year,” he told delighted supporters, “we have changed the face of French politics.”

Macron has never run for office before, but he is used to breaking the mold. At 16 he fell in love with his high school drama teacher, more than 20 years his senior. And now, at 39 and 64 years old, they’ve been married for a decade.

In second place was the far-right wing candidate Marine Le Pen, who told cheering crowds it was an historic result.

Le Pen’s populist promises will sound familiar to Americans: Shutting down immigration, anti-globalization, and renegotiating trade agreements to protect jobs at home. She also wants to follow Britain’s lead and take France out of the European Union.

A crowded field of 11 candidates and a scandal-ridden campaign left voters like Anne Sophie Parachamp frustrated.

“The campaign was a mess. I’ve never seen that in France,” she said.

Palmer asked, “What was unusual about it?”

“How little talking about economics,” Parachamp replied. “More noises, personal affairs, and things like that.”

But millions of French citizens woke to find the traces of a turbulent campaign being scrubbed away and a clear choice facing them in two weeks’ time. 

Protesters, unhappy with the first round results, scuffled with police in the streets overnight. More than two dozen people were arrested. 

Already analysts are saying Le Pen doesn’t have any chance of winning, especially as some of the other candidates in the primaries have all thrown their support behind Macron specifically to block her.

The European Union’s head office has thrown its weight behind Macron in the French presidential runoff against Le Pen, arguing it is a choice between the defense of the EU or those seeking its destruction.

In an exceptional stance during an ongoing campaign, the European Commission says that circumstances forced the hand of its president, Jean-Claude Juncker.

EU spokesman Margaritis Schinas said that “the choice was a fundamental one.” He said Macron represents the pro-European values while Le Pen “seeks its destruction.”

Meanwhile, Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis says he hopes a victory in the French presidential election for Emmanuel Macron would mark a break in the rise of extremist populist parties in Europe.