UPDATE: Emmanuel Macron wins French presidential election

Opinion polls predicted that the 39-year-old former economy minister Emmanuel Macron would win the five-year presidency.

FILE: French presidential election candidate for the En Marche! Movement Emmanuel Macron. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - Emmanuel Macron has defeated Marine Le Pen in the race to be France’s next president.

Opinion polls predicted that the 39-year-old former economy minister Macron would win the five-year presidency, seeing off the National Front's Marine Le Pen after an election campaign full of scandal and upsets.

Le Pen has conceded defeat, saying French people decided to vote for continuity.

When he moves into the Elysee Palace after his inauguration next weekend, Macron will become the eighth - and youngest - president of France's Fifth Republic.

He plans to blend a big reduction in public spending and a relaxation of labor laws with greater investment in training.

A European integrationist and pro-NATO, he is orthodox in foreign and defense policy and shows no sign of wishing to change France's traditional alliances or re-shape its military and peace-keeping roles in the Middle East and Africa.

His election also represents a long-awaited generational change in French politics that have been dominated by the same faces for years.

He will be the youngest leader in the current Group of Seven (G7) major nations and has elicited comparisons with youthful leaders past and present, from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to British ex-premier Tony Blair and even President John F Kennedy in the United States.

At the same time, British Prime Minister Theresa May has congratulated Emmanuel Macron on his success in winning the French presidential election, an emailed statement from May's office said.

"The Prime Minister warmly congratulates President-elect Macron on his election success. France is one of our closest allies, and we look forward to working with the new president on a wide range of shared priorities," said the statement.