PARIS – Beer flowed at incumbent Emmanuel Macron’s celebration of his first-round victory in the French presidential election, while Champagne corks popped across town to mark far-right leader Marine Le Pen’s second-place showing.
It was a night of effervescence for both contenders and their supporters ahead of a showdown in two weeks to see who will become France’s chief of state for the next five years. The two will be revisiting their 2017 match when centrist Macron, then an upstart never before elected to office, won by a landslide.
Flags, the national anthem and cheers — fueled with drinks as different as the programs of the two contenders — marked the end of a campaign that left 10 other candidates on the sidelines.
Macron was expected to capture a healthy first-round lead of around 28% support, ahead of Le Pen’s 23%-24%, according to projections. Final official results were not yet available.
“One, two, five more years,” Marcon's supporters cried out. “Marine president” and “We will win,” the hundreds of guests at Le Pen’s electoral party chanted.
“Now, everything is possible,” said Aurélien Lopez Liguori, a municipal councilor for Le Pen’s National Rally party, in the southern town of Sete. Macron “will finally answer to the French people” for his “bad record.”
He credited Le Pen’s mostly quiet, close-to-the-people campaign, far from TV cameras, for her showing. “The French thanked us tonight.”
It was anything but quiet at Le Pen's electoral venue in a park in eastern Paris. Cheers drowned out parts of her speech when poll projections were announced.
Le Pen, 53, a solid nationalist, has revamped her program and her style, campaigning on buying power and going decidedly people-friendly, to further distance herself from the far-right image that has haunted her anti-immigration party, work she began when she took over a decade ago. She has campaigned since September, longer than any other candidate, and as the campaign wound down took off in opinion polls.
In contrast, Macron, 44, came late to the campaign trail, occupied with affairs of state, including his active role in trying to stop the war in Ukraine. He has dominated polls from the start, but some in his entourage worried aloud about Le Pen’s steady advance.
Supporter Julien Bon said he was joyful with Sunday night’s results.
“It’s better than what we had expected,” he said, referring to recent opinion polls. “We are well on track. Now we must fight.”
Le Pen’s supporters at her electoral party came from around France and beyond.
“I couldn’t support Marine Le Pen with my vote, but I would if I were French,” said Hungarian guest Agnes Zsofia Magyar, who met Le Pen during the French politician’s visit to Budapest to support leader Victor Orban and his nationalist Fidesz party. She works in Brussels with the party-linked Foundation for a Civil Hungary.
“I am sure that the French have decided to change systems,” Magyar said, anticipating a Le Pen victory in the April 24 runoff and alluding to the drastic differences that populist Le Pen and pro-European Union Macron represent.
Macron asked his supporters to applaud all 10 candidates eliminated from Sunday's race, naming each, including far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who came in third.
Melenchon gave his own orders at his electoral gathering: “We must not give a single vote to Le Pen.”
“I think Marine Le Pen has a big chance of winning,” said Gilles Lebreton, a European Parliament lawmaker for the far-right party. Her party counts on winning over supporters of Eric Zemmour, a far-right pundit whose decision to enter the race divided Le Pen's support base.
For Le Pen’s National Rally, the second round begins Monday when Lebreton said party officials would meet to plan strategy for the second round.
Associated Press writer Sylvie Corbet contributed to this report.