French president Emmanuel Macron has pledged to “block off the far-Right” as he prepares for another head-to-head election battle with Marine Le Pen.
It followed him winning Sunday’s first round of the contest to choose his country’s new head-of-state against 11 other candidates.
The 44-year-old centrist won 27.6 per cent of the total first round vote. This compared to 23.4 per cent of the vote for Marine Le Pen, 53, who was runner-up.
The results mean that Mr Macron, sitting president and leader of the On The Move! (EM!) party, will go head-to-head against Ms Le Pen, of the National Rally (RN), in two weeks’ time, on April 24.
Opinions poll gave Mr Macron as much as a 10 point lead over Ms Le Pen earlier in the contest – but have narrowed to put the size of a projected victory for the president in the runoff within the margin of error.
Addressing his supporters in Paris after the preliminary results were announced, President Macron said: “We have a rich democracy – one that is defended by everyone who fights for their values and their ideas.
“I would now like to formally invite all our fellow citizens, no matter what they voted in the first round, to join our movement.”
Mr Macron said many would rightly want to “block off the far-Right”, adding: “Their level headedness and desire to block off the far Right’s progress is commendable.”
He added: “Let’s not kid ourselves, nothing is certain, and the debates over the next two weeks, will be a deciding moment for our country and for Europe.”
Early opinion polls suggest Mr Macron will win a second term, by between four and 10 percentage points.
Veteran far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon has emerged as kingmaker after coming close to pipping Ms Le Pen for second place.
He told his supporters not to “give a single vote to Marine Le Pen” in the next round – but pointedly did not back the president instead.
However other defeated candidates, including Valerie Pecresse of the conservative Republicans, and Anne Hidalgo, of the Socialists, immediately told their voters to back Mr Macron.
Ms Le Pen immediately projected the upcoming head-to-head confrontation with Mr Macron as a “choice between civilisations”, saying she would become “the President of all the French people”.
Speaking to her own supporters in the French capital last night, she portrayed the incumbent president as a globalist puppet who could not be trusted.
“The French people have spoken, and do me the honour of qualifying to take on the outgoing president,” said Ms Le Pen.
“On April 24 it will be a fundamental choice between two opposing visions of the country – either division and disorder, or the rallying of French people around social justice guaranteed by a fraternal framework.”
The Le Pen-Macron head-to-head is a repeat of the 2017 presidential election, when the first-round results were 24.01 per cent for Mr Macron, and 21.03 per cent for Ms Le Pen.
Mr Macron then went on to beat Ms Le Pen with a resounding 66 per cent in the second round five years ago.