Chirac garnered a resounding 82 percent of the vote in Sunday’s run-off, thus ending a dramatic presidential race that had jolted France and earned worldwide attention.
Voter turnout was estimated at 80 percent and Chirac now claims the largest margin of victory in modern French history.
Le Pen, leader of the controversial anti-immigrant National Front party, won 18 percent of the vote, surpassing his surprise breakthrough in the first round vote on April 21 by about one percent.
At his Paris headquarters, Le Pen called the election results “a stinging defeat for hope in France.” The extreme right leader was widely considered a racist and favored pulling France out of the European Union, tightening border patrols and deporting all illegal immigrants.
Leaders around the world hailed the election results as a victory for tolerance and human rights.
In his victory speech, Chirac promised to address the message of discontent that led to Le Pen’s initial success and put concerns over crime and employment high on his list of priorities.
“I have heard and understood your appeal for a republic which is alive, for a nation that joins forces and for a change in the way politics is conducted,” Chirac said in his victory speech Sunday night.
In the first major act of his new term, Chirac appointed conservative senator Jean-Pierre Raffarin as interim prime minister Monday, replacing Socialist Lionel Jospin who resigned from politics in the face of Le Pen’s humiliating first round success.
Raffarin is expected to name a conservative Cabinet and rally support for the right in key parliamentary elections in June.