World

FRANCE ELECTIONS

Emmanuel Macron re-elected as French president, promises to do better

The centrist incumbent French President Emmanuel Macron with his wife Brigitte Macron in Paris on 24 April 2022 after he beat his far-right rival Marine Le Pen for a second five-year term as president. (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images)
By Reuters
25 Apr 2022 0

At a time when economic issues are feeding social discontent in France, centrist incumbent Emmanuel Macron acknowledged in his victory speech in Paris that many voted for him simply as a way to keep far-right opponent Marine Le Pen out of office.

Emmanuel Macron comfortably defeated his far-right rival Marine Le Pen on Sunday, 24 April, heading off a political earthquake for Europe, but acknowledging dissatisfaction with his first term and saying he would seek to make amends.

His supporters erupted with joy as the results appeared on a giant screen at the Champ de Mars park at the Eiffel tower in the centre of Paris.

Leaders in Berlin, Brussels, London and beyond welcomed his defeat of the nationalist, eurosceptic Le Pen.

But even as exit polls showed a solid 58.5% of the vote, Macron acknowledged in his victory speech that many had voted for him only to keep Le Pen out — and he promised to address the sense that many French people have that their living standards were slipping.

“Many in this country voted for me not because they support my ideas, but to keep out those of the far-right. I want to thank them and know I owe them a debt in the years to come,” he said.

“No one in France will be left by the wayside,” Macron said in a message that had already been spread by senior ministers doing the rounds on French TV stations.

Like Jupiter

Two years of disruption from the Covid-19 pandemic and surging energy prices exacerbated by the Ukraine war catapulted economic issues to the fore of the campaign. The rising cost of living has become an increasing strain for the poorest in the country.

“He needs to be closer to the people and to listen to them,” digital sales worker Virginie, 51, said at the Macron rally, adding he needed to overcome a reputation for arrogance and soften a leadership style Macron himself has called “Jupiterian”. This concept was developed by his team in the last few months of the presidential campaign to illustrate his vision of the presidency. Jupiter is the supreme god of Roman mythology.

Bitterly divided

Le Pen, who at one stage of the campaign had trailed Macron by just a few points in opinion polls, quickly admitted defeat. But she vowed to keep up the fight with parliamentary elections in June.

“I will never abandon the French,” she told supporters chanting “Marine! Marine!”

Macron can expect little or no grace period in a country whose stark political divisions have been brought into the open by an election in which radical parties scored well. Many expect the street protests that marred part of his first term to erupt again as he presses on with pro-business reforms. Read more 

“There will be continuity in government policy because the president has been re-elected,” Health Minister Olivier Veran said. “But we have also heard the French people’s message.”

How Macron now fares will depend on the looming parliamentary elections. Le Pen wants a nationalist alliance in a move that raises the prospect of her working with rival far-rightists such as Eric Zemmour and her niece, Marion Marechal.

Hard-left Jean-Luc Melenchon, who emerged as by far the strongest force on the left of French politics, said he deserves to be prime minister — something that would force Macron into an awkward and stalemate-prone “cohabitation”.

“Melenchon as prime minister. That would be fun. Macron would be upset, but that’s the point,” said Philippe Lagrue, 63, technical director at a Paris theatre, who voted for Macron in the run-off after backing Melenchon in the first round.

International reaction

Outside France, Macron’s victory was hailed as a reprieve for mainstream politics rocked in recent years by Britain’s exit from the European Union, the 2016 election of Donald Trump and the rise of a new generation of nationalist leaders.

“Bravo Emmanuel,” European Council President Charles Michel, wrote on Twitter. “In this turbulent period, we need a solid Europe and a France totally committed to a more sovereign and more strategic European Union.”

“The financial markets will breathe a collective sigh of relief following Macron’s election victory,” said Seema Shah, chief strategist at Principal Global Investors.

The disillusion with Macron was reflected in an abstention rate expected to settle around 28%, the highest since 1969.

Initial polling showed the vote was sharply split both by age and socioeconomic status: Two thirds of working-class voters backed Le Pen, while similar proportions of white-collar executives and pensioners backed Macron, an Elabe poll showed.

‘French first’

Macron won about 59% of votes by 18 to 24-year-olds, with the vote almost evenly split in other age categories.

During the campaign, Le Pen homed in on the rising cost of living and Macron’s sometimes abrasive style as some of his weakest points.

She promised sharp cuts to fuel tax, zero-percent sales tax on essential items from pasta to nappies, income exemptions for young workers and a “French first” stance on jobs and welfare.

“I’m shocked to see that a majority of French people want to re-elect a president that looked down on them for five years,” Adrien Caligiuri, a 27-year-old project manager said at the Le Pen rally.

Macron, meanwhile, pointed to Le Pen’s past admiration for Russia’s Vladimir Putin as showing she could not be trusted on the world stage, while insisting she still harboured plans to pull France out of the European Union — something she denies. DM

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