Commercial and bureaucratic hindrances collided with an uncontrollable reality: the faith of many players.
Centrist Emmanuel Macron won first round with 23.9% of the votes. Defeated candidates publicly support Macron for the second round on May,7.
With 96% of votes counted from Sunday's first round, Macron has 23.8% with Le Pen on 21.5%.
Nearly 60,000 police and soldiers were deployed across the country to secure polling, with France still reeling from the shooting of a policeman on the Champs Elysees.
FILLON AND MELENCHON
Le Pen set a new record for her National Front (FN) party by attracting 6.9 million votes. Macron with his new party En Marche (Forward) has never before been elected to public office.
Conservative François Fillon won 19.9 percent of the vote, close to the 19.4 percent for extreme-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon.
For the first time in modern French history, the voting marks a shift away from the decades-long dominance of leftist and centre-right parties in French politics.
MACRON: “WE HAVE CHANGED FRENCH POLITICAL LIFE”
Speaking to his supporters in Paris at what he called an "unprecedented moment in its history", Emmanuel Macron told cheering supporters "we have changed the face of French political life in one year", calling for people to rally against "nationalists".
A former banker, Macron served as economy minister under current President François Hollande, quitting to launch a new party.
Macron said the challenge was to remedy a political system that had been unable to solve problems over the past 30 years, and to create a new political landscape for France and for Europe. He promised to bring new faces and new talent into French politics.
In clear reference to his far-right opponent, Macron said: "I want to be the president of patriots against the threat of the nationalists."
"I want to talk to all citizens in France. I know your expectations", Macron told his supporters.
LE PEN: “HISTORICAL RESULTS”
As the results came in, Le Pen called herself "the candidate for the people", saying that the "survival of France" was at stake.
Le Pen thanked her supporters for bringing her to the second round, calling it “a historic result.”
She suggested that "the French people now have a very simple choice: either we continue on the path to complete deregulation, or you choose France."
Le Pen stated that "it is time to liberate the French nation from arrogant elites who want to dictate how it must behave."
Le Pen has proposed holding a referendum on France's membership of the EU, limiting immigration, increasing control on the country's borders and expelling Islamic extremists.
MOST OF THE DEFEATED CANDIDATES SUPPORT MACRON
Support for Macron to prevent Le Pen gaining the presidency came quickly from some defeated candidates. Francois Fillon said Le Pen's "Front National is well known for its violence and its intolerance, and its program would lead our country to bankruptcy and Europe into chaos."
"I will vote for Emmanuel Macron. I consider it my duty to tell you this frankly. It is up to you to reflect on what is best for your country, and for your children", Fillon told his supporters.
Party veteran Alain Juppe gave a similar message at the rally saying, "Without hesitation I support Macron in his duel with the FN, whowould lead France to disaster."
Defeated socialist candidate Benoît Hamon was joined by the party's Bernard Cazeneuve, the current prime minister, in encouraging support for Macron. "I solemnly call for a vote for Emmanuel Macron in the second round in order to defeat the Front National and block the disastrous project of Marine Le Pen that would take France backwards and divide the French people” he said. Hamon polled only 6% of the vote.
EUROPEAN LEADERS, HAPPY WITH MACRON VICTORY
The European commission president has broken protocol to wish Emmanuel Macron well in the second round of the French presidential election, as the EU rallied against those seeking its “destruction”.
Jean-Claude Juncker congratulated Macron for winning Sunday’s first round and wished him luck against the Front National’s Marine Le Pen on 7 May, Margaritis Schinas, a commission spokesman, said on Twitter.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, described Macron as a “patriot and European” who he felt confident would beat Le Pen. “France must remain European,” he said.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has yet to comment personally on Sunday’s result, but her chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, tweeted: “The result for Emmanuel Macron shows: France and Europe can win together! The middle is stronger than the populists believe!”
Spain’s foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis, told Cadena Ser radio he hoped a victory for Macron in the second round would mark a break in the rise of extremist populist parties in Europe. European countries “need to get their act together, need to re-examine and constantly improve the European project.”
Russia, which had been seen as a keen backer of Kremlin-friendly Le Pen, said it respected the result of the first round and hoped for better ties with Paris whoever won the second round.