On Monday, centrist politician Emmanuel Macron emerged victorious over conservative Marine Le Pen in the French presidential elections, with a decisive triumph that saw him gather 66.1% of the votes compared to opponent’s measly 33.9%.
Macron, at 39, is France’s youngest head since Napoleon, and him being voted despite his age represents the numerical prowess of his majority support – young French millennials. An example of the demographic’s staunch support for the former investment banker came in early 2017, when Macron visited Algeria, a former French territory, and expressed his willingness to make an official apology on his nation’s behalf for their colonial atrocities of the past if elected to office, while also condemning French institutions controlling power in Algeria based on colonial ties.
In the aftermath of his comments, the French right-wing, composed mainly of middle-aged adults, stood firmly against Macron, while easily identifying with Le Pen instead.
Yet, the myriad of opinion surveys conducted after the Algerian incident saw Macron securing the slightest of majorities in every single one, mostly due to young adults taking his side.
The division that was thus incurred between two generations of French citizens is only one from the panoply of societal rifts that Macron will inherit from his former mentor, incumbent President Francois Hollande, next week.
Another issue that faces the French population is that of race, which has only worsened in the past 36 months, particularly for Muslims, owing to the string of Islamic terrorist attacks that have rocked their nation.
In light of this phenomenon, a conservative explanation for Macron’s landslide triumph has been that his victory is simply a reflection of France’s coloured and immigrant inhabitants’ sentiments, who comprise almost a fifth of its population, and have historically favoured left-leaning candidates like him.
Furthermore, for many, Le Pen’s tough stands on issues such as immigration has only confirmed this theory and that, for the minorities, Macron wasn’t the ideal candidate, but simply the lesser one of the two evils.
Moreover, Macron’s victory challenges the conventional narrative of French politics and makes him the head-of-state in a time of uncertainty, for the rise of him and Le Pen was only facilitated after they trampled the traditional behemoths – the Socialist and Republican parties – and the population aided both in etching them.
Thus, a period of Macron’s Presidency will undoubtedly be characterised by a relentless opposition trying to regain power with unbridled ambition, and staving off the issues that they throw up will demand a significant effort from the President-elect.
Indeed, Macron will fare much better in his first months as President than Le Pen would’ve, owing to his recurring message of keeping, both, Europe and the EU united, thereby keeping him in the good graces of most in the European left-wing. The exemplary pace at which British PM Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel sent Macron congratulatory messages, within minutes of his win, only serve to prove the point.
But, beyond the initial phase of finding his feet is where Macron will be forced to pacify a divided France.
Though he has triumphed in spite of his centrist beliefs, Macron will take office in a France bifurcated into the liberals and conservatives, thereby making the task of seeking consensus for any of his policies improbable each time around.
Furthermore, Le Pen’s share of votes, despite paling in comparison to that of Macron, represents an interest in conservatism not witnessed in France for decades, while echoing of most analysts’ opinion prior to the elections – that Le Pen’s popularity parallels the resurgence of conservatism not only in France, but around the world, providing further impetus for even conservatives closeted until recent times, due to a pre-dominantly liberal ecosystem, to emerge by her side.
That Macron triumphed despite the aforementioned repercussions of his potential victory being abundantly clear to those who voted for him is undoubtedly astounding. Yet, it would be foolish to argue that luck or the like didn’t favour Macron at each step that he took.
For starters, the Socialist party displayed a lack of consensus from the very offset, with the results of their primaries being a testament to the same. Of the four candidates standing, votes came to be throughly divided between each and no clear leader emerged, despite there being a majority.
Later, it was the scandal involving Republican candidate Francois Fillon and his wife, Penelope, the latter of whom allegedly received the regular salary of a parliamentary assistant during her husband’s various tenures in cabinet positions, despite official papers containing little evidence of her doing a large, if any, amount of work.
Fillon came to the fore and assured voters that he would step down from candidacy if an official probe involved him in the scandal’s investigation. A few weeks later, reports surfaced alleging that two of Fillon’s children had been doing the exact same thing as their mother during his office terms, and the calls for strengthening the probe, which was now one to expose potential misuse of public funds running into the millions, meant that Fillon too came under the sword.
And yet, the Republican failed to stay true to his promises, refusing to back out from the Presidential race, his excuse being that quitting a mere month before the elections would tarnish the work of those involved in his campaign and disappoint his supporters. This unkept promise on Fillon’s part cost him a place in the final polls, thereby strengthening non-conservative support for Macron further.
Then came Le Pen’s remark about Macron belonging to the “elite” class that couldn’t fathom the working class’s problems, let alone solve them.
That anybody could consider Macron, an entirely self-made banker, more of a supposedly dreaded “elite” than a woman whose father ruled over the French far right-wing for nearly four decades was simply a dumbfounding proposition for most, and ultimately proved to backfire against the National Front’s leader.
All things accounted for, Emmanuel Macron stands at the cusp of history, with the job of imbibing not only his own nation with its long-lost unity, but an entire continent, too.