PARIS – Rain and cold weather didn’t stop thousands of supporters from converging on the Louvre Museum square Sunday night to celebrate the victory of Emmanuel Macron in France’s presidential elections.
Indeed, the En March movement leader’s victory, with about 65% of the vote, over far-right candidate Marine Le Pen opens a new era in French politics – no more two traditional parties of Right and Left, but at the same time (unfortunately for Macron) also no more across-the-spectrum front against the far right. What seemed impossible at the beginning of the presidential campaign some six months ago has become a reality, with an independent president who owes nothing to nobody.
When Macron left the Holland government to establish his own movement, most pundits considered his move politically erroneous and premature. Already as economy minister, Macron had few political allies within the Socialist Party. When he left, none of his colleagues joined him.
The risk he took was his, and his alone.
Macron’s clear-cut victory on Sunday, perhaps even bigger than he himself imagined or hoped for, offers him the legitimacy he will need in his next steps.
In addition to determination and talent, Macron’s associates say luck also was very much on his side. The so-called Penelope- gate affair, which involved alleged fictitious employment associated with Republican right-wing candidate Francois Fillon, they say, played into his hands, and Macron did not hesitate to use it in statements on TV and elsewhere, condemning politicians who employ their relatives.
Recently, he even declared that one of his first moves if and when he entered the Elysee Palace would be preparing a law on political ethics and morality.
Still, despite his extra-ordinary margin of victory, Macron knows the forces he will have to face-off during his term as president are tremendous.
Standing in line Sunday morning to enter the Macron press center, a Spanish journalist told me: “You’ll see, even if Macron wins, we will all meet here again in four years, with Le Pen standing on the stage.’’ Certainly, Macron’s victory Sunday generated a sigh of relief in France and elsewhere in Europe, but, for many, it is just a temporary setback to the rising power of the far-right across the continent.
So, Macron’s victory over Le Pen is a bitter one.
Not only did she repeat the 2002 achievement of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, of making it to the second round of voting, she managed to position herself as a true political force that is not likely to disappear or diminish in the years to come.
In that respect, Le Pen has won.
Before the results were in, a source close to Le Pen told The Jerusalem Post that not only had they already started preparing for the legislative elections in June, they are thinking ahead to the end of Macron’s term and the next presidential elections.
Another senior National Front senior official had said that if Macron wins, “France will have a submissive, by default president, not one that was really chosen.”
Macron’s victory stands in contrast to the current global trend marked by the (anti-immigration, anti-Europe) British Brexit; the Donald Trump victory; and the challenges leaders in neighboring Holland, Germany and Italy have been facing since the beginning of the Syrian war with the continuous influx of immigrants.
Upon entering the Elysee, the young president will have to face a divided French society where anti-immigration, and even anti-Muslim, feelings are no longer hidden behind electoral or other excuses. In fact, many voters said Sunday they are not bothered by Le Pen’s anti-Muslim language or xenophobic inclinations, but rather that they are simply tired of the system and believe she is the right person to save France from its ongoing decline.
Reacting to the initial results reported on television, Macron thanked his associates and friends for their support and for going through the election battle with him. But the truth is that Macron’s victory is written in his name only – for better or for worse.
He will now have to act quickly in establishing his own party and presenting candidates in the legislative elections, as he has promised to do. Even if he manages to get some of his people into the parliament, however, Macron would need to win over many of the incumbent parliament members – mostly from the Socialist Party, but also from the center and the Republicans.
Some have already expressed a willingness to join him, though Macron was careful to make no promises. Too many of the “old guard” could do him more harm than good. He must garner a parliamentarian majority in order govern, while keeping the fresh image of new politics disconnected from the old system.