Macron, Le Pen advance to runoff that will decide France’s next leader

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french elections

A combination picture shows portraits of the candidates who will run in the second round in the 2017 French presidential election, Emmanuel Macron (L), head of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, and Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader. Pictures taken March 11, 2017 (R) and February 21, 2017 (L). Photo By Christian Hartmann/Reuters

French candidates Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will be heading for a runoff to decide the country’s next president after voters went to the polls in France’s first round of elections on Sunday, the Associated Press reported.

In a field of 11 candidates , the far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who is head of the National Front Party, and centrist Emmanuel Macron, held the two top slots on Sunday during a tight race.

As the vote count continued Sunday evening in France, both Macron and Le Pen each appeared to capture roughly 25 percent of the vote. The conservative former Prime Minister François Fillon came in third, projections showed.

Both Macron and Le Pen were viewed as favorites in an election that could serve as a referendum on the future direction of France, potentially tilting the country toward protectionism or further embedding France in a relationship with the European Union’s 28-nation bloc.

Macron, 39, a former investment banker and economy minister who is a relative newcomer to French politics, would like to form a tighter bond with the EU to lower the country’s 10 percent unemployment rate.

Le Pen, 48, who has drawn criticism for her anti-immigrant stance, has said she wants to exit the EU and impose protectionist trade policies for the country.

The two will face off on May 7 to decide who will become France’s next leader, replacing the country’s outgoing Socialist Party President François Hollande, who chose not to run for reelection.

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