(PARIS) — Early estimates show that French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to win France’s presidential runoff election in which he faced his far-right rival Marine Le Pen.
According to the estimates, which were confirmed to ABC News by Ipsos polling institute deputy CEO Henri Wallard, Macron received 58% of the votes, which is higher than the polls predicted.
Votes will continue to be counted overnight with final results being released Monday afternoon by the interior ministry.
As French media announced the preliminary results on Sunday evening, supporters at Macron’s rally near the Eiffel Tower cheered: “We won, she lost!”
One Macron supporter told ABC News that he was “relieved” — “relieved because I was afraid Marine Le Pen would win,” he said.
Le Pen was the first to take the stage after the results of her loss came in. While admitting defeat, Le Pen said, “Tonight’s result represents in itself a dazzling victory.” The far-right leader gained an estimated 42% of the votes, a score never before reached by a far-right party in France’s modern history.
She promised to “pursue her engagement for France and for the French” and to “lead the battle of the legislative elections.”
Macron, the centrist incumbent, and Le Pen emerged as the top candidates after a first-round vote on April 10. Sunday’s runoff is a rematch of the 2017 presidential election, in which Macron beat Le Pen by a landslide.
Recent opinion polls reported by French media showed a close race before the election, with Macron leading Le Pen by 13 percentage points.
“The gap between the two candidates as measured in the polls is much more narrow than five years ago,” Wallard, the chairman of Ipsos in France and its global deputy CEO, told ABC News.
Le Pen, 53, has sought to soften her rhetoric and image as the leader of the far-right French political party National Rally. She is no longer directly calling for France to leave the European Union and abandon the euro currency. However, she has been likened to former U.S. President Donald Trump with her hard-line policies on Islam and immigration. She has proposed to ban Muslim headscarves in public and give French citizens priority over foreigners for housing and job benefits.
“Her image has considerably softened,” Wallard said. “She comes across as less extremist than before.”
Le Pen has also been criticized for her history of support for Russian President Vladimir Putin. She has called Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine “unacceptable” and said she’s in favor of sanctions, but has publicly opposed restrictions on Russian energy imports, citing concerns about the rising cost of living in France. She has also pledged to withdraw France from NATO’s integrated military command, which could undermine support for Ukraine’s fight. Le Pen previously spoke out in favor of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
“Her victory would be a political earthquake,” Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C., told ABC News. “She would probably not wreck that coalition, but raise difficult questions.”
Meanwhile, Macron, 44, has been all but absent from the campaign trail as he has moderated talks between Putin and Western countries, which ultimately failed to prevent the war in Ukraine. Many French citizens are also feeling disenfranchised by Macron’s stringent COVID-19 policies, unpopular plans to raise the legal retirement age amid widespread inflation, and soaring gas prices.
For some, the former banker-turned-president is the lesser of two evils and a vote for Macron is considered a vote against Le Pen. Still, no one had ruled out the possibility of a triumph for Le Pen.
ABC News’ Jay Alpert, Guy Davies, Nicky de Blois and Grant Lawson contributed to this report.
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