Macron's victory in France: A crushing defeat for the Left, Right or both?

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France's President-elect Emmanuel Macron (screen shot via express.co.uk).

For a politician almost completely unknown outside France a month ago and little known inside a year ago, Emmanuel Macron has pulled off a stunning victory. Alan Austin reports from France.

EMMANUEL MACRON, 39, is now president-elect of the Fifth Republic of France — Europe’s second-largest economy, now Britain is leaving.

He is in prime position to become the "Leader of the Free World" should Chancellor Angela Merkel lose Germany’s federal election in September. (Although after Macron’s win, that seems less likely.)

So is this a victory for the "Left", or the "Right", or the sensible "Centre"? This is tricky because Macron himself has consistently claimed to be neither Left nor Right, but "for France". Seems to have worked.

Intriguingly, leftists who admire Macron claim he is from the Left. So do those on the right who despise him. Conversely, those from the right who like him together with those from the left who dislike him both claim he is from the right.

His leftist credentials include support for the global economy, acceptance of migrants and refugees and a commitment to economic management that favours the disadvantaged. He was a member of the Parti Socialiste for several years and served in the Socialist Government of François Hollande for four years. 

His right-wing tendencies include having worked as an investment banker with Rothschild & Cie Banque and his commitments to liberalising France’s economy and easing restrictive labour practices.

Macron’s victory on Sunday in the two-candidate run-off against Marine Le Pen of the hard-right Front National was emphatic. On the latest count – which may shift slightly as votes arrive from external territories – he won 66.1% of valid votes cast to 33.9%.

That contrasts with President Hollande’s 51.6% to 48.4% win in 2012 and former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s 53.1% to 46.9% victory in 2007.

It contrasts also with Malcolm Turnbull’s win 50.36% to 49.64% in Australia last year; with Donald Trump receiving 46.1% of the vote to Hillary Clinton’s 48.2% and with David Cameron’s 2015 win in the UK with 36.9%.

The French system is often distorted by varying rates of abstention, null votes (accidentally invalid) and blank votes (invalid as a deliberate protest). But none of these can soften the reality that this was a shellacking for Le Pen’s far-right Front National and the minor far-right party Debout la France led by Nicolas Dupont-Aignan.

Two weeks earlier, Le Pen and Dupont-Aignan together garnered 26% of the first round votes to Macron’s 24.01%. The total vote for the five solid right-wing candidates was a thumping 47.11%. That compares with 25.22% for the two centrist candidates – Macron and Jean Lasalle – and  27.67% for the four leftist candidates.

At that stage, it appeared that the electorate was moving to the right. But after the second round, clearly, not to the extreme right. There is not even the psychological consolation prize of Le Pen having breached 40% and kept Macron under 60%.

This follows similar outcomes this year in Ecuador, Austria and The Netherlands, where hard-right candidates failed to meet expectations. The evidence is piling up that the far-right peaked with Brexit and Trump in 2016.

Hence, it may never be for the Front National, despite claims that Le Pen is still building momentum and credibility as she sheds her extremist baggage.

Macron’s triumph was also a defeat for both traditional parties — Les Républicains (LR) on the right and the Parti Socialiste (PS) on the left. These – with occasional name changes – have dominated the presidency since Charles de Gaulle formed the Fifth Republic in 1958.

LR came third in the first round, with a disappointing 20.01%, due largely to a scandal engulfing candidate François Fillon. He was charged with embezzlement shortly before polling day.

PS came an embarrassing fifth, with 6.36%. That result was impacted by the perceived poor performance by incumbent PS President Hollande and by a surprisingly strong challenge from left rival Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who came fourth with 19.58%.

Because of these unusual factors, neither the PS nor LR can be written off. Both should regroup. Assembly elections in June will indicate how effectively.

Such a decisive win gives Macron an immediate authority few new national leaders have enjoyed. If he is required to lead global initiatives – in diplomacy, economics or war – this may prove invaluable. This is quite possible with former leaders David Cameron and Barack Obama retired, with Theresa May uninterested and Donald Trump widely perceived as incompetent.

Conflict is indeed looming in Europe with Russia’s expansionist ambitions no longer being held in check by the United States.

In an interview with Independent Australia in Nîmes, while the votes were being counted on Sunday night, Macron staffer Yannick Péran explained that Eastern European countries which have been safe from Russian incursions under previous U.S. leaders are secure no longer. He nominated Romania, Hungary and Poland.

Peran told IA:

"France must with Germany build a new Europe – economically and militarily – now that Trump is under the control of Vladmir PutinThis is a historic moment for France — and a historic moment for Europe."

Macron appears to have the intellect to understand the complexities – and dangers – of contemporary geopolitics.

As the perceptive Guy Rundle noted yesterday:

"Macron is the first President of France to speak English competently, which means he also speaks it better than the current President of the United States."

Time will tell if Macron also has the judgment to appoint capable people to critical positions and the ability to translate his impressive mandate into effective governance.

The dominant mood in France seems one of "Attendons. Nous verrons bientôt" — We shall wait and soon see.

Meanwhile, life is to be lived. As this IA reporter left les célebrations at Macron’s Sunday night gathering, a crowd was engrossed in another TV transmission in a nearby bar: Lyon was leading Nantes, three goals to two.

You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @AlanTheAmazing.

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