The Current

'Fresh face' Macron and Le Pen head to 2nd round of French presidential election

The Current reviews the seismic shift in French politics after the first round of presidential voting leaves the mainstream parties chewing dust.
Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche!, or Onwards!, earned 23.75 per cent of the vote on April 23, with National Front party's Marine Le Pen just behind at 21.53 per cent, at the first round of voting in the French election. (REUTERS)

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Voters in France went to the polls, April 23, to begin choosing a new president and they made one thing clear: change is on the way.

Candidates representing France's two major political parties were given the boot in the first round of national voting, which took place amid high tensions and tight security following last week's gun attack on the Champs-Élysées that left a police officer dead.

Centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen are set to face each other in a May 7 runoff for the French presidency 3:12

Emmanuel Macron, a newcomer to politics and a centrist and far-right National Front Leader Marine Le Pen, received the most votes from a seemingly divided electorate. The final figures released by the Interior Ministry in France had Macron in the lead with 23.75 per cent of the vote and Le Pen at 21.53 per cent. They will go head-to-head, May 7, in a runoff.

French reporter Ben Barnier says Le Pen led a very strong campaign that resonated with "all kind of people."

"I've been on the campaign trail for months now, talking to young people, older people, students, farmers, and hearing a lot of people determined to vote Marine Le Pen for president."
This is the second time that the National Front party has made it to the final of a presidential election. The party’s founder Marine Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, went head to head with conservative Jacques Chirac in 2002. (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

But Barnier admits he was surprised Le Pen didn't get more of the vote, and even more shocked to see Macron made it to the second round of this presidential election.

"We know very little about Emmanuel Macron," Barnier tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti, it's very unclear where Macron stands politically.

"Even when you ask him, he wouldn't tell you. He says, 'I don't define myself as a left or right-wing or center-right of center-left. I'm just different. I'm just new.'"

Barnier says Macron's campaign resonated with a younger generation because he's "a fresh face."

"I mean the man is not even 40; he's extremely young. If he were to be elected, he'd be the youngest president in French history."

He points to Macron as also being popular with people who feel left out by Europe.

As for Le Pen, Barnier says she can thank blue collar workers for their votes. He explains that people who use to vote for far-left parties, the Communist Party or other parties, are defaulting to Le Pen.

"They feel like they have tried all the other options and Le Pen appears as being the only option that could work for them."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Idella Sturino.