New French president Emmanuel Macron has won the election. Let’s hope he wins forthcoming challenges as convincingly. They include:
- Fighting apathy. Thirty percent of the electorate didn’t vote. It was the lowest turnout in more than 40 years.
- National Assembly elections next month.
- Quelling the anger of the far right.
Macron’s win is phenomenal. He is the first candidate for the presidency never to have run for public office before. He founded his party, En Marche, in April last year. His only experience in government two years as an economics minister. And he will be the Fifth republic’s youngest president.
His meteoric rise shows the extent of people’s disillusionment with the major parties. And it’s indicative of the move away from the left/right divide that has characterised politics for centuries. He is emblematic of the new dichotomy defined by former British PM Tony Blair as open versus closed. The former is Macron’s approach: open, outward looking, global; and a mix of pro-business, socially progressive policies. The latter is Le a Penn/Trump/Brexit approach: protectionism, closed borders and a yearning for the past.
The move away from left/right is partly caused by the failure in the US, UK and France of both to deliver what they promised. The French election turnout of 65 percent is low. Macron needs to reach and engage the 30 percent who stayed away from the polls. Disillusionment with the “system” can lead to support for extremism which undermines democracy.
The second challenge is the elections next month. Elections to for 577 members of the 15th National Assembly will be on 11 and 18 June. Macron will have to rely on the support of Republicans and Socialists to implement his agenda.
Thirdly, Macron will have to quell the anger of Le Pen supporters. She has made clear her intention to broaden her neo-fascist movement. Macron’s difficult task is to find a way for people not to want to vote for the latest version of Le Pen’s vehicle she hopes will deliver her power.
Macon’s victory is for France and Europe. France is the cradle of the Enlightenment. Former Socialist President Francois Mitterrand said the country was the “champion of the rights of the citizen”, referring to the French as “the sons of the French Revolution”. Republican president Jacques Chirac said, “France is custodian of a vision, of values, of a humanist ideal”.
Marine Le Penn was a threat to those great ideals. She may have softened her language in an attempt to appear more moderate but French voters rejected her. Let us hope they continue to.