Emmanuel Macron is set to be re-elected for a second term as French president after defeating his far-right rival Marine Le Pen in the second round of voting on Sunday, according to projections by polling agencies based on early returns.

Victory for the liberal internationalist Macron, first elected in 2017, will mean continuity in economic and foreign policy, and the outcome will come as a relief to investors and to France’s EU and Nato allies in the midst of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. A win for Le Pen would have been a geopolitical earthquake akin to Brexit or the election of Donald Trump.

The projections on Sunday showed Macron winning about 58 per cent of the vote, against 42 per cent for Le Pen — although those figures are not final and will be adjusted as vote counting progresses.

Macron would be the first French president to be re-elected in 20 years, and the first of any since the current voting system was established in 1962 to win another term while in full control of the government — previously re-elected presidents had been in “cohabitation” with prime ministers from rival parties dominant in the National Assembly.

However the Eurosceptic, anti-immigration Marine Le Pen — who had vowed to pull France out of Nato’s military command structure and sharply curb immigration — put in the best performance of her three campaigns for the Elysée Palace in the past decade.

She leaves Macron to preside over a divided France in which millions showed their support for nationalist candidates of the far right and left.

France’s far-right movement has grown politically stronger over the years, in line with nationalists and populists elsewhere in the world.

When Macron and Le Pen competed for the first time in the runoff five years ago, Macron won by 66 per cent to 34. In 2002, the centre-right incumbent Jacques Chirac defeated Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen by 82 per cent to 18 after the Front National leader unexpectedly reached the second round.

Macron appeared vulnerable in the early stages of this year’s campaign and at one point his lead over Le Pen narrowed to within the margin of polling error, as she criss-crossed the country emphasising the problems of poverty and the cost of living while also downplaying her divisive policies on migration, nationality and Islam.

But in the first round on April 10, Macron took the lead with 28 per cent of the votes, ahead of Le Pen on 23 per cent and the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon on 22. Well over half the first-round votes were cast for candidates of the extreme right or left.

Over the past two weeks, Macron and Le Pen have been courting Mélenchon’s 7.7mn voters, with Macron emphasising his green credentials and Le Pen her programmes to support the poor by lowering taxes on food and fuel.

The 44-year-old Macron will now aim to secure control over the National Assembly in the legislative elections in June, without which he will struggle to make laws or implement his policies.

His first term was marked by the gilets jaunes anti-government demonstrations that began in 2018, then by the Covid-19 pandemic that swept across the world in early 2020, and finally by the invasion of Ukraine launched by Vladimir Putin in February this year.

Macron’s first-term labour reforms and tax cuts were hailed by foreign investors and French businesses, as was his “whatever it costs”, EU-backed pandemic recovery programme to help employers and employees through the coronavirus crisis.

Many of the French, however, say they detest Macron for what they see as his arrogance and lack of concern for the poor. The so-called “republican front” in which voters are supposed to keep an extreme-right candidate from power by choosing the other contender, however unpalatable, appears to be crumbling.

“I have mixed feelings tonight. I’m happy that he’s won but I’m also very uneasy that the far right is doing so well,” said Macron supporter Jackie Boissard, a finance worker holding European and French flags among the president’s backers celebrating the result near the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

But Maurice Blanc, a longtime supporter of Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National movement, said: “We must throw all our energies into the next battle for the legislative elections so as to be able to shape the fate of the country at this crucial time.”

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