French Election: Hollande Urges Nation to Reject Le Pen
France's outgoing president, Francois Hollande, Monday urged people to back centrist Emmanuel Macron in a vote to choose his successor next month and reject far-right leader Marine Le Pen, whose place in the runoff represented a "risk" for France.
Macron and Le Pen, leader of the National Front, go head-to-head on May 7 after taking the top two places in Sunday's first round.
Opinion polls indicate that the business-friendly Macron, who had never held elected office, will take at least 61 percent of the vote against Le Pen after two defeated rivals pledged to back him to thwart her euroskeptic, anti-immigrant platform.
Hollande, a Socialist nearing the end of five years of unpopular rule, threw his weight behind his former economy minister in a televised address, saying Le Pen's policies were divisive and stigmatized sections of the population.
"The presence of the far-right in the second round is a risk for the country," he said. "What is at stake is France's makeup, its unity, its membership of Europe and its place in the world."
Global markets reacted with relief to Sunday's vote, which broke the dominance of established parties of the center-left and center-right but still left the most market-friendly and internationally minded of the remaining contenders in pole position to become France's next leader.
Opening the battle for second-round votes, Le Pen highlighted the continuing threat of Islamist militancy, which has claimed more than 230 lives in France since 2015, saying the 39-year-old Macron was "to say the least, weak" on the issue.
Le Pen had promised to suspend the EU's open-border agreement on France's frontiers and expel foreigners who are on the watch lists of intelligence services.
Macron's internal security program calls for 10,000 more police officers, and 15,000 new prison places, and he has recruited a number of security experts to his entourage.
However, opinion polls over the course of the campaign had consistently found voters to be more concerned about the economy and the trustworthiness of politicians.
Others in Le Pen's campaign took aim Monday at what they see as further weak spots: Macron's previous job as an investment banker and his role as a deregulating economy minister under Hollande.
Analysts said Le Pen's best chance of overhauling Macron's lead in the polls is to paint him as a part of an elite aloof from ordinary French people and their problems.
"Emmanuel is not a patriot. He sold off national companies. He criticized French culture," Florian Philippot, deputy leader of Le Pen's National Front [FN], told BFM TV.
Philippot called Macron "arrogant" and said his victory speech Sunday had shown disdain for the French people by making it appear as though the presidency was already won.
In that speech, Macron appeared to respond to Le Pen's claim to be the protector of France's workers and their values by saying: "I want to be the president of patriots in the face of a threat from nationalists."
Two defeated candidates - conservative Francois Fillon and Socialist Benoit Hamon - did not even wait for Sunday's count to urge their supporters to rally behind Macron, who took 24.01 percent of votes Sunday to Le Pen's 21.30.
A Harris survey saw Macron going on to win the runoff against her by 64 percent to 36.
Source: News Agencies, Edited by website team