Emmanuel Macron
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French president-elect Emmanuel Macron celebrates on stage at his victory rally near the Louvre in Paris on Sunday. Photo: Reuters

Update | ‘Tonight, France won’, president-elect Emmanuel Macron declares, after thrashing far-right’s Le Pen

The victory caps an extraordinary rise for the 39-year-old former investment banker, who secured 66 per cent of the vote

Pro-European centrist Emmanuel Macron has resoundingly won France’s landmark presidential election, defeating far-right leader Marine Le Pen in a pivotal vote for the future of the divided country and Europe.

At 39, the former investment banker will be the country’s youngest-ever leader and faces a huge challenge to heal a fractured and demoralised country.

The vicious election campaign that culminated in Sunday’s second round of voting has exposed deep economic and social divisions, as well as tensions around identity and immigration. Le Pen conceded defeat in a phone call to Macron, who received two-thirds of the vote.

Thousands of flag-waving supporters gave Macron a rapturous welcome Sunday as he strode into the courtyard of the Louvre museum to the strains of the European anthem after his decisive win.

The glass pyramid in the world-famous courtyard glowed golden as Macron made a solitary walk to a stage in front, looking solemn.

French president-elect Emmanuel Macron (centre) and wife Brigitte Trogneux (right) sing the national anthem in front of the Louvre Museum in Paris on Sunday. Photo: AFP

“Tonight, France won,” the pro-EU centrist, who will become the nation’s youngest ever president cried to the crowds, who yelled with joy. “Everyone told us it was impossible, but they don’t know France,” he said, before vowing: “I will serve you with love.”

With almost all votes counted, Macron had secured 66.1 per cent of valid votes, compared to 33.9 per cent for Le Pen.

Macron’s rousing speech lasted just a few minutes before his wife Brigitte, 64, and around 20 people including family members joined him onstage.

The new leader then clasped his hand to his heart and closed his eyes as he sang along to the French anthem, the Marseillaise.

“He’s a symbol of hope,” said supporter Jean-Luc Songtia, 36. “It’s like Obama eight years ago. It’s youth, it’s hope.”

“We’ve won!” the crowd chanted as if at a football match following Macron’s win.

Supporters of Emmanuel Macron celebrate near the Louvre museum after his victory was announced on Sunday. Photo: AFP

“He killed her, that’s all there is to it,” said 31-year-old Abdel Oukil. “I was convinced she [Le Pen] would score over 40 per cent.”

It’s like Obama eight years ago. It’s youth, it’s hope
Macron supporter Jean-Luc Songtia

Earlier, Macron had told supporters at his campaign headquarters, “I know the divisions in our nation, which have led some to vote for the extremes. I respect them”.

“I know the anger, the anxiety, the doubts that very many of you have also expressed. It’s my responsibility to hear them,” he said. “I will work to recreate the link between Europe and its peoples, between Europe and citizens.”

Le Pen said she wished Macron success. “I called Mr Macron to congratulate him on his election, and because I have the country’s higher interest at heart I wished him success faced with the huge challenges France is facing,” she told supporters at a post-election gathering of her National Front (FN) party in Vincennes near Paris.

Unknown three years ago, Macron is now poised to become one of Europe’s most powerful leaders, bringing with him a hugely ambitious agenda of political and economic reform for France and the European Union.

The result will resonate worldwide and particularly in Brussels and Berlin where leaders will breathe a sigh of relief that Le Pen’s anti-EU, anti-globalisation programme has been defeated.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said she called Macron to congratulate him and thank him for his commitment to the EU. “She praised him for championing a united European Union that is open to the world,” said Seibert.

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said French voters had chosen a “European future.”

Supporters of Emmanuel Macron celebrate at the Carrousel du Louvre after Macron won the second round of the French presidential elections . Photo: EPA

China’s President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory message to Macron, noting that their countries “bear special important responsibilities to world peace and development”, according to Xinhua, the state news agency.

Outgoing President Francois Hollande, who plucked Macron from obscurity to name him a minister in 2014, said voting “is always an important, significant act, heavy with consequences” as he cast his ballot.

Macron will now face huge challenges as he attempts to enact his domestic agenda of cutting state spending, easing labour laws, boosting education in deprived areas and extending new protections to the self-employed.

Watch: France votes for new president

After Britain’s vote last year to leave the EU and Donald Trump’s victory in the US, the French election had been widely watched as a test of how high a tide of right-wing nationalism would rise.

“France is sending... an incredible message of hope to the world,” veteran centrist Francois Bayrou, an ally of Macron, told France 2 television. “Anyone who bet on this has probably made a fortune.”

Le Pen, 48, had portrayed the ballot as a contest between Macron and the “globalists” - in favour of open trade, immigration and shared sovereignty - and her “patriotic” vision of strong borders and national identities.
Defeated French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen arrives to delivers her concession speech at the Chalet du Lac in Paris on Sunday. Photo: EPA
Ballots are counted by officials in the second round of the 2017 French presidential election at a polling station in Tulle, France. Photo: Reuters

In her concession statement, Le Pen said the result made the FN the country’s “biggest opposition force” and announced she would lead the FN into June general elections.

But the FN would have to “profoundly renew itself to be equal to this historic opportunity and the expectations expressed by the French in this second round,” she warned.

“I suggest we begin a profound transformation of our movement to create a new political force,” she said, adding: “I call on all patriots to join us.”

US President Trump, who had backed neither candidate, tweeted congratulations to Macron. “Congratulations to Emmanuel Macron on his big win today as the next President of France,” he said. “I look very much forward to working with him!”

Macron will now face huge challenges as he attempts to enact his domestic agenda of cutting state spending, easing labour laws, boosting education in deprived areas and extending new protections to the self-employed.

The philosophy and literature lover is inexperienced, has no political party and must try to fashion a working parliamentary majority after legislative elections next month.

His En Marche movement - “neither of the left, nor right” - has vowed to field candidates in all 577 constituencies, with half of them women and half of them newcomers to politics.

“In order for us to act, we will need a majority in the National Assembly,” the secretary general of En Marche, Richard Ferrand, told the TF1 channel, adding that only “half of the journey” had been completed.

Emmanuel Macron next to his wife Brigitte Trogneux, waves to supporters in Le Touquet, northern France. Photo: AFP

Many analysts are sceptical about Macron’s ability to win a majority with En Marche candidates alone, meaning he might have to form a coalition of lawmakers committed to his agenda.

Furthermore, his economic agenda, particularly plans to weaken labour regulations to fight stubbornly high unemployment, are likely to face fierce resistance from trade unions and his leftist opponents.

He also inherits a country which is still in a state of emergency following a string of Islamist-inspired attacks since 2015 that have killed more than 230 people.

Outgoing French President Francois Hollande waves to supporters in a street in Tulle, France. Photo: EPA

The vote Sunday followed one of the most unpredictable election campaigns in modern history marked by scandal, repeated surprises and a last-minute hacking attack on Macron.

Hundreds of thousands of emails and documents stolen from his campaign were dumped online on Friday and then spread by anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, leading the candidate to call it an attempt at “democratic destabilisation.”

France’s election authority said publishing the documents could be a criminal offence, a warning flouted by Macron’s opponents and far-right activists online.

It was the latest twist in an election that has consistently wrong-footed observers as angry voters chose to eject establishment figures, including one-time favourite Francois Fillon, a rightwing ex-prime minister.

Unpopular President Hollande was the first to bow to the rebellious mood in December as he declared he would be the first sitting president not to seek re-election in the French republic, founded in 1958.

Additional reporting by Reuters