Wednesday,23 August, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1344, (11 - 17 May 2017)
Wednesday,23 August, 2017
Issue 1344, (11 - 17 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Macron wins against Le Pen

Frontrunner Emmanuel Macron won last Sunday’s second round of the French presidential elections, making him France’s youngest-ever president

Macron wins against Le Pen
Macron wins against Le Pen

In a result that was hardly a surprise, but that had nevertheless been far from certain, frontrunner Emmanuel Macron convincingly won the second round of the French presidential elections on Sunday following a hard-fought campaign against his extreme-right opponent Marine Le Pen.

According to the French Interior Ministry, which announced the first results soon after voting closed in France on Sunday evening, Macron won with 66.1 per cent of the vote as opposed to 33.9 per cent for Le Pen, meaning that he will now take over as the country’s next president.

His victory came at the end of an unusually bruising campaign that saw France’s mainstream parties excluded from the elections in favour of Macron, leader of a personal political party, En Marche! (Let’s Go!), that presents itself as bridging France’s traditional left-right divide, and his opponent the extreme-right Front National leader Le Pen.

All eyes now will be on the results of the upcoming French parliamentary elections in June, which will decide whether Macron will be able to duplicate his personal success on the parliamentary level by seeing the election of a substantial number of En Marche! MPs, or whether he will be forced to settle for some form of coalition.

Should the mainstream left French Socialist Party be able to recover from its disastrous showing in the first round of the presidential elections when it was eliminated on just six per cent of the vote and gain a respectable number of MPs, Macron may find it possible to form a government with it that shares at least some of his ideas.

This is because although he has not previously held an elected position in France Macron was minister of the economy under former Socialist Party president François Hollande, when he was responsible for some of the former Socialist government’s flagship legislation.

Should the mainstream right, or even the extreme-right, score heavily in the parliamentary elections such that it has a significant number of MPs, Macron may find it more difficult to get legislation through that is in line with his electoral programme.

At present, the Assemblée nationale, the 577-seat lower house of the French parliament, has a clear Socialist Party majority, there being 284 Socialist and allied MPs, 199 opposition mainstream-right Républicains MPs, and a handful of others, including two extreme-right Front National MPs.

Macron has said that he intends his En Marche! Party to field candidates in all 577 constituencies in the first round of the parliamentary elections on 11 June, though doubts remain over whether En Marche!, put together to support Macron’s bid for the presidency, has the national organisation required to run multiple campaigns.

Should the results of the parliamentary elections not go Macron’s way, he may find himself bogged down in a quagmire of negotiations to form a coalition government involving trade-offs damaging to the momentum that brought him to the presidency.

Such negotiations, all too likely given Macron’s lack of any obvious constituency on either the traditional right or left of French politics, may in turn dilute some of his more striking ideas. These include pushing ahead with the kind of broadly free-market economic reforms that marked his time in office as economy minister and led to mass demonstrations by trade unions and others against Hollande’s government.

For the time being, however, the mood in France is upbeat, with many French voters not hiding their relief at Macron’s victory and with it the defeat of Le Pen. Though the latter has been responsible for a strategy to “detoxify” the Front National since she became the party’s leader in 2011, memories of its positions remain among many French voters, as well as its general reputation for xenophobia or racism.

Le Pen herself ran a campaign that sought to capitalise on doubts about the ability of France’s traditional ruling parties to extract the country from the economic stagnation and social problems it has seen in recent years, with France experiencing anaemic growth allied to high unemployment, growing debt, and increasing balance of payments problems.

Her campaign was helped by what has been seen as outgoing president Hollande’s mediocre record in government, with election promises to “invert” the unemployment curve such that it goes downwards rather than upwards, to reduce the country’s debt and budget deficits, and to renegotiate its relationship with the European Union, being abandoned one by one as the economic crisis continued.

Hollande’s record was not helped by evidence of ongoing social ills in France, notably the radicalisation of some French young people of North African origin who have been influenced by terrorist propaganda.

The country has been ruled under a formal state of emergency since the attacks in Paris in late 2015 and in Nice in 2016 that killed a total of some 230 people. There were also earlier terrorist attacks in Paris against the weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015.

In its analysis of the election results, the French newspaper Le Monde said this week that while French voters had resoundingly rejected Le Pen they had not necessarily given Macron a mandate to carry out his programme.

There had been a record level of abstention in the second round of the elections at 25.4 per cent of the electorate, and there had been a further four million voters, or 11.5 per cent of the total, who had turned out to vote but had spoiled their ballot papers rather than vote for either of the candidates.

While his election had been remarkable, Le Monde said in its editorial on Monday, with Macron launching himself into the fray just four months ago in defiance of “all the laws of politics, with no party behind him, no experience of elections, and no clear position on the political spectrum,” his victory had come about above all because he had realised that “the existing system and its main parties was on the edge of collapse”.

“Many voters only reluctantly voted for Macron,” the paper said, in order to avoid something worse, and “many others did not manage to overcome their doubts, as was shown by the record level of abstention and spoiled ballot papers. This absence of élan behind his election and the deep-seated divisions that appeared over the course of the campaign” would require of Macron all the tact he could muster if he hoped for success ahead.

Perhaps sensing that he might not be able to count on a more enthusiastic showing in the parliamentary elections in six weeks’ time, Macron said in his victory speech in Paris on Sunday that an “immense task” lay ahead in building a real majority behind the reforms that he said were necessary.

He referred to the “difficulties” that had “weakened France for too long, including economic difficulties and the moral weakening of the country”. He said he understood “the divisions in the nation that had led some to vote for extremes”.

“I understand the anger, the doubts, and the anxiety that some have expressed” during the campaign, Macron said, adding that “I will fight against the divisions that have been undermining us.”

Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly this week, a number of French voters said they had voted for Macron solely in order to avoid Le Pen and that he was far from being their first choice for president.

One voter, who had voted for left-wing firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round of the elections, said she had voted for Macron in order “to block Le Pen” and that she would be voting “as far left as possible” in the parliamentary elections in June in order to try to prevent Macron from pushing through his legislative programme.

Another voter said she had voted for mainstream right Républicains Party candidate François Fillon in the first round of the elections despite the allegations of corruption that have hung over him since the satirical French weekly Le Canard enchainé published material purporting to show that he had employed family members in “fake” public-sector jobs while he was an MP and then prime minister under former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

She would also be voting for the Républicains Party candidate in the parliamentary elections, this voter explained, since although “some of Macron’s economic programme is not too bad,” he had not “come clean about his intentions” and there was a danger he would “stuff his government full of Socialist Party politicians”.

France, Le Monde said on Monday, was now “divided into four blocks corresponding to the four main candidates in the elections [Fillon, Mélenchon, Le Pen and Macron] together with those abstaining altogether. It is not true to say that this balkanised society is suffering from ‘democratic fatigue’. Instead, there is a growing incapacity to make the kind of compromises necessary for society to function.”

The upcoming parliamentary elections may begin to tell us whether this bleak assessment is true.

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