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In French Election, Established Politicians Are Out


We start the show in France where polls have now closed in the first round of the French presidential election. And most of the projections say the centrist Emmanuel Macron and the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen will meet in the runoff in two weeks' time. The conservative Francois Fillon conceded defeat and said he would be voting for Macron in the second round.

NPR's Eleanor Beardsley joins us now from Paris. Eleanor, you were in Macron headquarters when the first projections came in. What was the atmosphere like?

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: That's right, Ray. Well, let me just play a little tape here. As they usually do, every presidential election, they announce the results on the nightly news, and they do a countdown, and then the two top winners come up. And this is that happening.


BEARDSLEY: So Ray, people just exploded in joy. It's not like it wasn't expected, but now it's real.

SUAREZ: What does this tell us about the political state of play in France to have essentially two outsiders, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, finish first and second?

BEARDSLEY: Yeah, this is a year like - a political year like no other. Establishment politicians have been swept away. And there is a growth in the far-right populism. But I think what it tells us is that people are ready to sweep away the old and try the new. They want renewal. And even though these two scores were close, openness and a pro-European feeling won out. We see European flags waving alongside the French flags here. But one thing is for sure, the old ways are gone. The established politicians are out. This is a totally new age.

SUAREZ: The projections only separate Macron and Le Pen by a few points. Is the final runoff likely to be as close as round one?

BEARDSLEY: Yes, they're separated by two points. That's because there were 11 candidates. The Socialist Party was split, so all the votes were scattered out. In the second round, there will be two candidates, and it's not likely to be close at all. But this doesn't take away the feeling that the far-right got its biggest score ever in a presidential election. And I spoke with Marie Celine Terre, who's very happy that her candidate won, but here's what she said.

MARIE CELINE TERRE: First, I feel sorry because I think that Marine Le Pen is too high, and it's not a good news for our country because there is Donald Trump, there is Putin. Second, I'm very happy because I was voting for Emmanuel Macron, and it's good news for France. It's a new era, I hope, and a new - something new is coming.

SUAREZ: Well, yes, and if, as you say, Marine Le Pen can't improve on her current showing very much, while Macron may be able to. The National Front has contested French elections for decades. The party has a national network in place were Marine Le Pen to become president. But let's look at Emmanuel Macron. Has France ever had an independent president, a president without a party?

BEARDSLEY: Absolutely never. It's astounding. He created this movement in August of last year, and he's just - he wasn't even known three years ago. So we have this 39-year-old former investment banker. He says he's not left or right but progressive. He wants to make France innovative and risk-taking. This is something we've never seen before in France, and people are just agog.

SUAREZ: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reporting from Paris. Good to talk to you.

BEARDSLEY: You too, Ray. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.
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