French voters are being courted across the spectrum for a run-off election after shutting out the country’s political mainstream from the presidency for the first time in the country’s modern history. Chris Raymond reports

Centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen will battle it out for the French presidency on May 7.

The partial results indicate the two movements that have dominated French politics for 60 years have been eliminated in the first round, with no major party candidate advancing to the run-off for the first time in modern history.

But what do we know of the two front-runners?

Emmanuel Macron

A young candidate with no electoral experience who was a protege of Mr Hollande before striking out on his own and is the favourite to win the run-off.

The former investment banker was unknown to voters before his two-year stint as Mr Hollande's business-friendly economy minister.

But last autumn, he quit the governing party to found his En Marche movement, which he defines as centrist, and he has attracted support from left, centre and right.

Mr Macron holds an optimistic vision of a tolerant France and a united Europe with open borders, and wants closer co-operation among member states. To improve Europe's security, he wants some 5,000 European border guards to be deployed the bloc's external borders.

The pro-business 39-year-old - the youngest in the race - has promised to be a president "who protects, who transforms and builds", but has been dubbed the big money candidate by opponents.

He is married to Brigitte, 24 years his senior - the same age difference as US President Donald Trump and Melania - and close political adviser.

The pair fell in love when he was a student at the high school where she was a teacher in the town of Amiens in northern France. She was a married mother of three children at the time.

Marine Le Pen

Positing herself as the "great alternative", the Front National's leader is hoping to surf to power by capitalising on voter dissatisfaction with the political status quo.

Ms Le Pen's campaign has focused on jobs, security and the threat from Islamic extremism. She also denied French state complicity rounding up Jews for the Nazis in the Second World War.

The far right candidate came third in 2012, but has surged in the polls since terror attacks killing hundreds made her anti-immigrant, strong security stance more appealing to previously reluctant voters.

Speaking after last week's terror attack in France, US President Donald Trump said she was "strongest on borders, and she's the strongest on what's been going on in France".

The 48-year-old mother of three has vowed to put in place a "battle plan" against Islamic terrorism if elected.

Ms Le Pen, who believes the EU is taking away France's sovereignty and hurting its economy, wants to pull out of the EU and the euro.

She will be aiming to go further than her father Jean-Marie, who stunned voters by qualifying for the run-off in 2002 before losing heavily to incumbent Jacques Chirac. Many commentators expect the same fate for his daughter, but she has already drawn far more support than he ever did and she has transformed the party's once-pariah image.

What next?

FRENCH politicians on the moderate left and right immediately urged voters to block Le Pen's path to power.

The defeated far-left candidate, Jean-Luc Melenchon, pointedly refused to do the same, and Le Pen's National Front is hoping to do the once unthinkable and peel away voters historically opposed to a party long tainted by racism and anti-Semitism.

"The voters who voted for Mr Melenchon are angry voters. They can be in agreement with us," said Steeve Briois, a vice president of Le Pen's National Front party. He said they express a choice "outside the system".

Choosing inside the system is no longer an option for French voters, who rejected the two mainstream parties that have alternated power for decades in favour of Le Pen and the untested Macron, who has never held elected office and who founded his own political movement just last year. Turnout was 78 per cent.

Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon, whose party holds a majority in the legislature and whose President Francois Hollande is the most unpopular in modern French record-keeping, got just six per cent. The conservative candidate fared marginally better, coming in third with just shy of 20 per cent of the vote.

Both centre-right and centre-left fell in behind Macron, whose optimistic vision of a tolerant France and a united Europe with open borders is a stark contrast to Le Pen's darker, inward-looking "French-first" platform that calls for closed borders, tougher security, less immigration and dropping the shared euro currency to return to the French franc.

European stock markets surged on opening as investors welcomed the first-round results, with Macron favoured to win. German Chancellor Angela Merkel wished Macron "all the best for the next two weeks".