Far-right populist Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron appear to have won today’s first-round vote in the French presidential election, exit polling suggests.
The top two vote-getters will face off in a second and final round on May 7 unless one manages to get more than 50 percent of the vote today, which has not happened in a French presidential election since 1965.
"This is still an anti-establishment outcome, even though Macron represents a centrist platform," Erik Brattberg, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Europe Program, told ABC News. "Worth watching now is whether other French politicians will be rallying around Macron to defeat Le Pen in 2nd round."
François Fillon, the conservative candidate who appears to have come in third place, conceded defeat, saying "There is no other choice than to vote against the extreme right. Therefore I am voting for Emmanuel Macron.”
After the initial exit polls were announced, the country’s prime minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, called on voters to support Emmanuel Macron and reject Le Pen in the next round, according to the Associated Press.
Meanwhile at Le Pen’s headquarters in Hénin-Beaumont, a township in northern France, supporters began singing the French national anthem and waved French flags.
French voters went going to the polls for a first-round vote to choose their next president from among 11 candidates, including Le Pen, who opposes immigration and has voiced skepticism about France’s membership in the European Union.
Pre-election polls suggested Le Pen and Macron, an independent centrist and former economy minister, were in the lead.
"Le Pen did as expected. There was no hidden Le Pen vote in the first round. While she can get more votes in a second round with only one opponent, she has likely reached a ceiling among her core voters," Brattberg predicted.
French presidential election candidate for the En-Marche movement Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during a campaign rally in Dijon on March 23, 2017.more +
Leading up to the vote, conservative Francois Fillon, a former prime minister embroiled in a scandal over alleged fake jobs given to his wife and children, appeared to be closing the gap in recent days, as was far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon.
"A last-minute push by Fillon and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon was not enough to get them into the run-off," Philip Crowther, a correspondent for France 24 in Washington, told ABC News. "This result is a disaster for France’s main two parties — the conservative Republican party and the Socialist party."
The election is seen as a litmus test for the future of the Europe and the spread of populism around the world.
More than 50,000 police and gendarmes were deployed to protect 66,000 polling stations for the election, which comes just three days after a deadly attack on Paris’s famed Champs-Elysees Avenue in which a police officer and a gunman were slain.
The presidential poll has consequences for the future of the European Union, for France’s millions of Muslims and for world financial markets. It’s also the first ever to be held while France is under a state of emergency, put in place since the November 2015 attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead.
President Trump said this week that he believed Le Pen was “the strongest on what’s been going on in France,” while former President Barack Obama called to wish Macron well in the poll.
Neither Trump nor Obama said he was making a formal endorsement.
Around 48 million people were registered to vote in the election, which will almost certainly go to a second round — with the two top candidates facing off for another vote in two weeks.