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21st Feb 2024

Macron wins French presidency

  • Abstention rate indicated many voters were reluctant to endorse Macron (Photo: Reuters)

[Updated at 10.20 on Monday 8 May] Emmanuel Macron became France's president on Sunday (7 May) after easily beating far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, with 66.1 percent of the vote against 33.9 percent, in the second round of the presidential election.

The score obtained by the 39-year old centrist and pro-EU politician reflected the so-called republican front, in which people from the left and right voted to prevent Le Pen's National Front (FN) party.

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According to a poll by Ipsos, 43 percent of people who voted for Macron on Sunday did so to beat Le Pen.

The 25.4-percent abstention rate, the highest since 1969, indicated that many voters were reluctant to endorse Macron, a banker-turned-economy-minister under outgoing Socialist president Francois Hollande.

More than 3 million (6.34 percent) of those who voted cast a blank vote, while an additional 1.1 million ballot papers (2.24 percent) were invalid.

By contrast, Jacques Chirac was elected against Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, with 82.21 percent in 2002, amid a 20.29 percent abstention rate.

"I know it’s not a blank cheque,” Macron said in a speech to his supporters in the courtyard of the Louvre Palace in central Paris. “The task will be difficult,” he added.

In a TV address earlier that evening, he had said: “A new page is opening. I want it to be the page of hope and renewed confidence”.

Speaking in a solemn tone, he acknowledged "the divisions in our nation, that led some to cast an extreme vote" and vowed to "fight with all [his] strength against division, which undermines us and takes us down".

"I know the angers, the doubts, the anxiety that some expressed," he said. "It is my responsibility to hear you by fighting against all forms of inequalities, by ensuring your security, by guaranteeing the unity if the nation."

"I will defend France, its vital interests, its image," he said, adding that he would also "defend Europe".

"It's our civilisation that is at stake, our way of being free," he said. "I will work to rebuild the links between Europe and its citizens."

Macron launched his own political movement En Marche! (Marching Forward) only a year ago and still has no structured political party.

He ran on a social-liberal platform, with an emphasis on reforms to boost growth and reduce unemployment.

He finished top in the first round on 23 April, ahead of Le Pen, and eliminating the candidates of the two main traditional parties - Francois Fillon from the centre-right Republicans and Benoit Hamon from the Socialist Party.

He said on Sunday evening that a "renewal of our political life will be necessary [from] tomorrow", and that "moralisation of public life [and] democratic vitality will be the bedrock of our nation from the first day”.

The defeated Le Pen said French people had “voted for continuity".

She said that with an "historical and massive" 10.6 million votes, the highest result ever obtained by her FN party, "the French people appointed the patriotic and republican alliance as the first force of opposition to the new president's project."

She said that the FN now needed a "deep transformation" and called on "all patriots to join her to "establish a new political force".

She said her programme would be to "choose France, defend its independence, its freedom, its prosperity, its security, its identity and its social model".

Solid lead

Macron kept a 20 percentage-point lead over Le Pen since the first round - around 60 percent to 40 percent.

The latest polls indicated that his lead had increased after a tense TV debate on Wednesday between Macron and Le Pen, after which many said that Le Pen failed to explain her policies and was too aggressive towards her opponent.

During the last days of the campaign, Macron was also targeted by fake news and leaks relayed by pro-Trump and pro-Russian activists and by automatic accounts on Twitter. The whistleblower website Wikileaks also joined in.

According to experts, an analysis of how documents were hacked from Macron's campaign and later leaked bore Russian fingerprints, with Russian names visible in code lines.

The apparently Russian-led effort to influence the vote, the same way Russia hacked the US presidential vote last year, did not succeed, however.

For Macron, who will be inaugurated in mid-May, the honeymoon could be short, as legislative elections loom next month.

According to Ipsos poll, 39 percent of voters do not want Macron to have a majority in the lower house after the elections.

The debate over whether to vote for him against Le Pen and the low turnout on Sunday indicated that voters from traditional parties could still make Macron's life difficult, despite his easy victory against the far-right.

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