Voters have elected Emmanuel Macron president of France, rejecting the anti-EU, anti-immigrant policies of Marine Le Pen.
Preliminary results released after polls closed showed Macron winning 62.3 percent support compared to Le Pen’s 37.7 percent.
Sunday culminated a presidential election campaign that many French say is the country's most acrimonious and contentious in modern history.
“A new hopeful and confident chapter for France begins,” Macron told the French news agency, AFP.
Minutes after preliminary results were released, Le Pen told her supporters at a restaurant in eastern Paris she had called Macron and conceded. “The French have chosen a new president. They voted in favor of continuity. I have called Macron because I have the best interests of France in mind and I wanted to wish him the very best,” she said.
U.S. President Donald Trump reacted on Twitter to the results of the French presidential election, congratulating Macron on a "big win" and saying he very much looks forward to working with him.
Surveys going into Sunday had suggested Macron would win the election with a substantial lead over Le Pen. But Macron supporters filled the main courtyard of the Louvre Museum for a celebration, and expressions of relief.
“I feared Marine Le Pen because she sowed division in this country,” said Frank Kamandoko, a reveler waving a large French flag at the Louvre on Sunday night. “That is why I had no choice but to support Emmanuel Macron,” Kamandoko, a French citizen originally from the Central African Republic.
At 39, Macron a former banker and economy minister, becomes France’s youngest president. He is pro-EU but wants reforms to make the grouping more democratic and has warned that continuing business as usual with the European Union will trigger a Frexit, or a French exit similar to Britain’s.
Macron’s view is held by many young, urban, largely affluent voters who see their nation as a cosmopolitan experiment that has worked and globalization as not only inevitable, but the key to future economic prosperity.
Anti-EU Le Pen
While Macron was widely favored by pollsters to win the election, it was Le Pen, her anti-EU position and her drive to stop the flow of Muslim immigration to France who drew world attention to the race.
“We are being submerged by a flood of immigrants that are sweeping all before them. There are prayers in the street, cafes that ban women and young women who get threatening looks if they wear a skirt,” Le Pen said at a rally in April. She called for the expulsion of Islamists, the closure of mosques whose imams preach extremism, cuts in immigration, scrapping the euro, and a referendum on France’s EU membership.
Both candidates were mobbed by journalists as they cast their ballots at separate locations. Outgoing President Francois Hollande also voted Sunday.
Le Pen’s message resonated among those who see their future threatened by crony capitalism and a destruction of French native culture. Her strongholds are largely in areas of northeastern France where factory and steel plant closures have killed thousands of jobs, pushing France’s unemployment rate to nearly 10 percent, among the highest in Europe.
France’s deep divisions were clear in a final, vicious debate where the anger, bitterness and personal dislike between the two candidates were on display, something observers hurt her numbers.
“The high priestess of fear is sitting in front of me,” Macron said. Le Pen told Macron “You are the France of submission.”
“I am sick of this campaign,” said voter Jasmine Youssi after being among the first to cast ballots at a polling station in the 12th district of Paris. “It is the first time there’s been such an aggressive campaign. It was repetitive. I stopped watching TV because it would make me sick. I am so glad it is over,” she told VOA.
Voter turnout was less than expected, with voter disgust and anger causing many voters to abstain or submit blank votes.
Voters braved the rain in Paris and turned out steadily throughout the day.
On Paris streets, posters of Macron and Le Pen were pasted side by side, both often defaced.
“It says that the people are for neither one or the other. The French are in distress,” said Brigitte Levoir, a voter in the Paris suburb of Drancy. "We could perhaps be afraid of Le Pen, but we should be afraid of Macron as well. What is his plan? He has none. We should be afraid of them both. I want De Gaulle to come back to the world and establish some order,” she told VOA, after casting her ballot.
The vote was historic, and seen by many as a turning point in French politics. In a sign of revolt against the established political class, the poll was the first in the history of the modern republic where mainstream parties were shut out.
France voted for change, but not revolution.