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Macron’s victory indicates that populism is not so popular in France

By Rahul Gupta

Emmanuel Macron, the French President-elect, in his victory speech, recognised the voice of those who voted against him. He vowed to make changes that would prevent people from voting for extremists in the future. Defeating extreme-rightist Marie La Pen of the National Front, he secured 66% of the total votes in the run-off, a substantial increase from his 24% in the first round.

A  peek at the French electoral mechanism

French presidential elections are held in two parts–the first presents voters with a multiplicity of choices while the second round is a face-off between two candidates with the highest vote share in the first round. The winner of the second round becomes President. The President selects his ministers and the Prime Minister. These elections are separate from the parliamentary elections, fought in 577 constituencies across the country.

Macron, the ‘centre’ of attraction

The 39-year old’s victory in Sunday’s run-off election secured his place as the Republic’s youngest leader since Napoleon Bonaparte III. Elected on a centrist platform, the ostensible political outsider who had never fought an election before, promised to be progressive on social issues while being pro-business. His movement En Marche! appealed to the youth who were dejected by a paralysed economic system with mass unemployment and slow growth.

En Marche! bespoke of the removal of blockades which threatened to hamper France’s development, reformation of onerous labour laws, and savings in public expenditure. These pro-business views attracted slack from left-leaning voters in France. However, their perception of an absolute rightist President as the greater evil led to their inclination towards Macron.

Embracing the left or rejecting the right?

Miss La Pen and her political party, the National Front, stood on a far-right platform, which advocated France’s withdrawal from the EU currency union, expansion of welfare policies, 80% cut in immigration and tightening the requirements for acquisition of French citizenship. While these policies attracted a good chunk of voters, a majority of the French voters found these reforms difficult to digest. The French aversion to a far-right rule is historic and, as is believed, rooted in the 4 years of Nazi occupation during World War II. A fair few of the votes for Macron may be interpreted as votes against the rightist ideology.

War is won only on one front!

The new President has many challenges to address. First amongst these are the legislative elections across 577 constituencies which will determine the make-up of France’s legislature. Since 2002, the parliamentary elections are held a month after the presidential elections. This is done in order to create a “winner dynamic” so that the parliament is in line with the President. Macron is not a part of any formal political party, so the former Minister of Economics will need to individually field candidates in each of the constituencies. The President-elect has indicated that he will field candidates from both sides of the political spectrum, along with individuals from the civil society. However, only time will test the pragmatism of this approach.

Analysts predict that La Pen’s National Front can possibly win a significant percentage of the seats in the legislature, making it a strong opposition party. This would naturally hamper the President’s ability to deliver on his promises.

After major hiccups, there is a reason to rejoice

A few hours prior to the campaigning blackout on Friday, the documents from Macron’s camp, were posted anonymously and soon spread across the internet and landed on Wikileaks. The French Electoral Commission found that the leaked documents were fraudulently obtained. Accordingly, the commission declared criminal penalty for anyone publishing the leaked material. The Commission in a public statement highlighted the “seriousness of the election”. A media house which had apparently gone through a section of the leaked content claimed that the leak was “clearly aimed at disrupting the current electoral process”.

Emmanuel Macron’s victory has revived faith in the European project, drawing sighs of relief from leaders across the continent. It seems to dispel the wave of populism and nationalism, which is storming the West. Macron, in his victory speech, declared that it is upon France to defend the spirit of the enlightenment, to protect the oppressed and save the environment. The fight for open, liberal societies is not lost, and the election of Emmanuel Macron warrants such a statement.


Featured Image Source: The Indian Express