Audacious interloper Emmanuel Macron, 39, was elected eighth President of France’s Fifth Republic on Sunday night causing a historic upheaval in French and European politics, similar to that caused by President Donald Trump’s election in the US last year.
He decisively defeated extreme right-wing Marine Le Pen, 48, by a margin of 65.8 percent to 34.2 percent (official figures are due on Monday). He will enter the Elysees Palace before May 14, which is the last day for Socialist President Francois Hollande to hand over power.
The decision of French voters has caused political upheaval and thrown a burdensome mantel upon centrist Macron. They chose to reject all shades of the Party establishments that have squabbled over France for nearly 60 years, whether of far right and far left, or center right and center left.
Some analysts are calling this a historic, even revolutionary, event for France and European politics.
The voters’ choice calls for a new centrist politics with fresh and younger blood, free of populism and extremist nativism, or manipulation by traditional political elites, rigid labor practices, and trade and economic protectionism.
They want more and better paid jobs, more social support systems like health care, pensions and unemployment benefits, and improved education. They want a dynamic country that cherishes all its people, including immigrants.
They prefer a France open to Europe and the world. They expect Macron to build a more prosperous future for them by quickly making France so miraculously strong as to compete successfully with Germany, the US, Britain, China, Russia and India.
And, of course, they do not want to pay more taxes or work longer hours. Yet, sacrifices will have to be made, and therein lies Macron’s Sisyphean challenge.
Macron will start his long centrist journey with almost no elements of political strength. His En Marche! Party is barely a year old, has no seats in national or provincial parliaments and no historic political capital.
He stands on jelly legs to fulfil voter’s hopes. Things could change on June 18 after national legislative elections if En Marche! wins enough seats to form a majority government in the 577-seat Assemblée Nationale.
But don’t hold your breath since Le Pen, whose extremist Front Nationale party has never hit 34 percent, will come out fighting as will the established mainstream parties of right and left. Le Pen may even change her party’s name to hide the racist and anti-Semitic legacy of her father, who founded it about 40 years ago.
French voters have wrought havoc upon their own political system by severely hitting traditional Socialists and conservative Republicans, who have alternately ruled France since the Fifth Republic’s creation by General Charles de Gaulle.
The shock is like the one dealt by those who voted for Trump. But that is where the similarity ends.
Those who were against Trump are still engulfed by a sense of injustice about the method of his victory and the directions in which he is leading their great country. Many of them feel that they must fight a political civil war each day to stop Trump from making things worse.
Nobody in France, not even Le Pen’s fervent supporters, have such a deep sense of disappointment or alienation towards those who voted against their candidate.
In contrast to Trump’s victory, which Europeans are still struggling to understand, Macron’s meteoric rise to power has sent waves of relief. Europe’s capitals, including Berlin and Rome, were dreading the rise of Le Pen’s extremism in the heart of their continent.
Although a maverick like Trump, Macron is his opposite in politics. Trump is a nativist with shallow understanding of domestic and international issues bedeviling the US and Europe. So, most Europeans look upon him with trepidation.
Macron is a clear-headed centrist who won mainly because he pledged to tighten cooperation with other Europeans and turn France into a better home for all its multicultural people.
Very unusually for a politician, he spoke the truth to voters about his intentions. Nobody can now complain that he misled them. They knowingly chose a centrist pro-European unaffiliated to any traditional party.
Hopefully, they will now choose enough of his En Marche! candidates to let him have a majority government. Otherwise, he will be stymied by a traditionalist Republican, Socialist or National Front-led government.
What Trump and Macron have in common is that each rose to power in barely a year despite ridicule from political operatives of both right and left. Macron proved to be more courageous than Trump, who became the traditional Republican Party’s candidate and took its help to become President.
Macron preferred to set up his own centrist En Marche! Party, which he says is of neither left or right. He took no help from the established Socialist or Republican parties.
The genius of French voters lies in their use of common sense in Sunday’s presidential polling. They rejected the siren songs of false promises, anger against economic globalization and hatred for persons of other skin colors and cultures.
This was a relief since American and British voters fell for those dangerous songs thrusting Trump to power and causing Britain to start withdrawing from the EU.
Le Pen had pledged to pull France out of the EU in addition to closing French frontiers to immigrants and many imports. Her nativism is like Trump but her policies would have been far more outrageous.
Macron’s election has spared France the ignominy of ill-tempered divisions among voters, of the kind shaking American democracy.
But his case for common-sense centrism in modern democratic politics is yet far from clear. It may even be nipped in bud by June’s legislative elections.
Copyright 2017 The Moderate Voice