BY Anne-Sylvaine Chassany, Financial Times –
The French presidential election has turned into a binary contest between two political outsiders, one a staunch defender of the postwar liberal order and the other a fierce populist intent on tearing it down. These opposing forces place France at the heart of a faultline running through western democracies.
On Sunday evening, the presidential contest that pollsters had long predicted became reality: Emmanuel Macron, the independent centrist, and Marine Le Pen, the far-right National Front leader, made it through to the second round vote on May 7.
The duel between a Europhile who has campaigned on optimism and an open economy and a far-right politician who, tapping into angst over French identity, wants to erect protectionist barriers and exit the euro, will trigger relief throughout Europe. The polls, reassuringly accurate up to this point, suggest a comfortable victory for Mr Macron in that scenario. Surveys conducted before and after the first round of voting predict that Mr Macron, who set up his party, En Marche!, only a year ago, will become France’s next leader, with about 60 per cent of the vote.
He is expected to win thanks to centre-right and leftwing voters committed to barring the FN candidate from power. If it proves so, the eurozone’s second-largest economy will have resisted the populist tide that swept Donald Trump into the White House and Britain out of the EU.