Whether France will remain aligned with the European Union or will follow the United Kingdom and head for a “Frexit” largely comes down to which presidential candidate emerges victorious in the next round of the election. On Sunday, French voters favored two very different contenders to proceed to the next round, on May 7: the centrist, pro-Europe newcomer Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, who has promised a Frexit referendum.

Graphics from Politico showed the closeness of the contest as the votes were counted.

As results were tallied, The New York Times reported that, as in recent elections in the U.S. and U.K., the French vote indicated a rejection of mainstream politics. Here are details from the Times’ account:

Ms. Le Pen spoke later to supporters in the small town of Hénin-Beaumont in northern France, and although the final results were unclear, she could claim a victory of sorts. Not only will she be in the runoff for the first time, but she also got a higher percentage of votes than she did in 2012, and a higher percentage than her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, did in 2002, when he made it to the second round as the candidate for the far-right National Front.

She said the outcome was “an act of French pride, that of a people who are raising up their heads, that of a people sure of their values and confident of the future.”

Few analysts give her much of a chance of winning in the second round, however. Even before official results were announced, the political establishment was rallying behind Mr. Macron, warning of the dangers of a victory by Ms. Le Pen’s National Front.

Bernard Cazeneuve, the sitting Socialist prime minister, called Ms. Le Pen’s project “dangerous and sectarian” and said it would “impoverish, isolate and divide” the country.

After the election result became clear, left-wing opponents of Le Pen and Macron clashed with police on the streets of Paris. Britain’s daily newspaper The Telegraph wrote:

Police moved in on the demonstrators, some of whom threw bottles and firecrackers, an AFP [Agence France-Presse] journalist saw. Three people were arrested, according to police.

Several hundred young people rallied in the Bastille square — the historic site where the 1789 French Revolution began — after projections suggested Le Pen would contest the second round against Emmanuel Macron, a centrist and former banker.

Protesters waved red flags and sung “No Marine and No Macron!” …

… Another [protest that participants called an] “anti-fascist demonstration” also took place late Sunday in the western coastal city of Nantes.

Given the similarities between Le Pen and Donald Trump on key platform issues such as immigration and national identity, the parallels between the presidential election in France and the 2016 equivalent in the U.S. also have been a source of interest and anxiety, depending on allegiances.

Macron is a 39-year-old newcomer to France’s political scene whose status as a relative unknown may have helped him thus far, but if recent U.S. history is any indication, to clinch a win he’ll probably need to present more of a distinct profile than that of being anti-Le Pen.

Meanwhile, Sunday’s tally represents the end of the line for the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon and establishment-right candidate François Fillon. Read Alan Minsky’s report about Mélenchon’s message here.

–Posted by Kasia Anderson

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