French President Emmanuel Macron defeated his far-right rival Marine Le Pen on Sunday by a comfortable margin, securing a second term and heading off what would have been a political earthquake.
Cheers of joy erupted as the results appeared on a giant screen at the Champ de Mars park at the foot of the Eiffel tower, where Mr Macron’s supporters waved French and EU flags. People hugged each other and chanted “Macron.”
Ms Le Pen has admitted defeat but vowed to keep-up the fight, with the June parliamentary elections in mind.
Analysts say that Mr Macron’s victory was essentially a no-confidence vote against the far-right, and that he could therefore not claim total victory.
Protests that marred part of his first mandate could erupt again quite quickly, as he tries to press on with pro-business reforms.
“We will not spoil the victory … but (Le Pen’s) National Rally has its highest score ever,” Health Minister Olivier Veran told BFM TV.
“There will be continuity in government policy because the president has been re-elected.
“But we have also heard the French people’s message,” he added, pledging change.
The first major challenge will be the parliamentary elections in June and opposition parties on the left and right will immediately start a major push to try to vote in a parliament and government opposed to Mr Macron, according to the News Agency of Nigeria.
Philippe Lagrue, 63, technical director at a theatre in Paris, said earlier in the day he had voted for Mr Macron after voting for the hard-left Jean-Luc Melenchon in the first round.
He said he would vote for Melenchon again in June. “Melenchon Prime Minister. That would be fun. Mr Macron would be upset, but that’s the point.”
Victory for the centrist, pro-European Union Macron was immediately hailed by allies as a reprieve for mainstream politics that have been rocked in recent years by Britain’s exit from the European Union, the 2016 election of Donald Trump and the rise of a new generation of nationalist leaders.
“Bravo Emmanuel,” European Council President Charles Michel, wrote on Twitter.
“In this turbulent period, we need a solid Europe and a France committed to a more sovereign and more strategic European Union,” he added.
Mr Macron will join a small club – only two French presidents before him have managed to secure a second term.
But his margin of victory looks to be tighter than when he first beat Ms Le Pen in 2017, underlining how many French remain unimpressed with him and his domestic record.
Against a backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing Western sanctions that have exacerbated a surge in fuel prices, Le Pen’s campaign homed in on the rising cost of living as Macron’s weak point.
She promised sharp cuts to the fuel tax, zero-per cent sales tax on essential items from pasta to diapers, income exemptions for young workers and a “French first” stance on jobs and welfare.