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What happens next in France will determine the level of bigotry Europe is willing to tolerate

“If Le Pen wins, she will divide the country, Europe and probably the world.”

People line up before casting their vote for the first-round presidential election at a polling station in Paris, Sunday, April 23, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti
People line up before casting their vote for the first-round presidential election at a polling station in Paris, Sunday, April 23, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti

French voters headed to the polls on Sunday to cast their vote for the country’s next president. The results: Far-right Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron will head to the runoffs on May 7.

According to the Guardian’s live blog of the elections, Macron has a slightly larger share of the votes (23.7 percent) than Le Pen (21.7 percent) thus far. Center-right candidate François Fillon and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon are at about 19.5 percent, and socialist candidate, Benoît Hamon, is at about 6.5 percent.

Following a year of rising nationalism in Europe and the United States, intertwined with fear-mongering about immigration, the results of the runoff could be an indicator of how much xenophobia Europe is willing to tolerate.

Le Pen, head of the National Front (FN) party, has run on a vocally anti-Islam, anti-immigrant platform — and as a result, has often been compared to U.S. President Donald Trump. In November of last year, Le Pen called Trump’s victory “a sign of hope for those who cannot bear wild globalization,” and two weeks before his inauguration, she was seen at Trump Tower in New York. On Friday, she was tacitly endorsed by Trump.

Where Macron has called colonization a “crime against humanity,” Le Pen has said that “colonization brought a lot” to the colonized, like roads and schools. She has gone on trial for hate speech for comparing Muslims praying in the streets to the Nazi occupation of France, denied the role of the French state in rounding up Paris Jews to be sent to concentration camps, and vowed to make France “more French,” calling immigrants “interlopers.” Following an attack on the Champs Elysees on Thursday by a gunman who allegedly swore allegiance to ISIS, Le Pen called for the deportation of all foreigners on the terror watch list. Le Pen has also supported France’s withdrawal from the European Union, recalling the xenophobia and anti-immigrant rhetoric involved in the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” referendum to leave the union.

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But it’s not just religious minorities and immigrants Le Pen targets. Le Pen has also antagonized the LGBTQ community, vocally opposing same-sex marriage, and has a mixed record on abortion rights.

The candidates of two main parties in the French elections —Fillon and Mélenchon — did not make it to the runoff, making the election even more critical for the future of French and European politics. Fillon and Hamon have already said they will vote for Macron, and urged their supporters to do the same.

Current polling for the second round projects Macron will win with a comfortable margin against Le Pen, but 2016 has offered us a fair amount of skepticism for polls.

“I really fear that Le Pen might win,” Chibane Nadir, a 47-year-old Algerian French resident of Saint-Denis, north of Paris, told the Washington Post, shortly before the results were announced on Sunday. “If Le Pen wins, she will divide the country, Europe and probably the world. She is a racist and full of hatred.”

This is a breaking news post and will be updated as more information becomes available.