Irshad Salim (MAMOSA Report) — France has a new president. Emmanuel Macron – an independent centrist who has never held elected office – has won a resounding victory over far-right, nationalist Marine Le Pen in the most important French presidential race in decades, according to early vote counts by the French Interior Ministry.
Macron’s win ends what observers describe as the country’s most contentious and divisive presidential campaign since the founding of the Fifth Republic.
French voters on Sunday cast ballots in a presidential election with no candidates from traditional establishment parties — a first in recent history.
Their choices were between Macron – a centrist from the left who is pro-business and pro-Europe – and Le Pen – who wanted France out of the European Union and an end to most immigration, especially from Muslim countries.
In early returns Sunday, Macron had won an estimated 64 percent of the vote to Le Pen’s nearly 36 percent. Le Pen has already called to congratulate Macron and conceded defeat to a gathering of her supporters in Paris.
Le Pen, a right-wing populist, had hoped to repeat the surprise victories of Donald Trump and the Brexit camp, which won last summer’s referendum to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union. But Sunday’s results mark a big defeat for her manifesto.
Macron, a political newcomer, is set to become the youngest president in modern French history. His improbable path to victory has been extraordinary in that it included dispatching France’s two major political parties, the Socialists and the Republicans.
The French presidential race — which has been closely watched around the world — became the latest referendum in the West on globalization and its benefits and societal costs. The race also focused on the deeper question of what it means to be French.
As the day began, French voters faced a stark choice. Macron, 39, is an avowed internationalist who speaks fluent English and envisions a France deeply integrated with Europe and open to the world.
The France Le Pen described to supporters in her National Front party could not be more different. Le Pen, 48, had called for a temporary ban on immigration, a referendum to leave the European Union and replacing the Euro with the Franc, the old French currency.
Surveys going into Sunday had suggested Macron would win the election with a substantial lead over Le Pen. But Macron supporters filled the main courtyard of the Louvre Museum for a celebration, and expressions of relief — and they did on Sunday night.
“I feared Marine Le Pen because she sowed division in this country,” said Frank Kamandoko, a reveler waving a large French flag at the Louvre. “That is why I had no choice but to support Emmanuel Macron,” Kamandoko, a French citizen originally from the Central African Republic.
A former banker and economy minister, Macron is pro-EU but wants reforms to make the grouping more democratic and has warned that continuing business as usual with the European Union will trigger a Frexit, or a French exit similar to Britain’s.
Macron’s view is held by many young, urban, largely affluent voters who see their nation as a cosmopolitan experiment that has worked and globalization as not only inevitable, but the key to future economic prosperity.
“Macron is a new face and that’s exactly what France and Europe need: a fresh start,” Andre Sapir, a senior scholar at the Bruegel think tank in Brussels, said in an interview with Bloomberg. “Macron gives Europe a huge hope.”
Among those cheering Macron’s victory will be officials in Brussels who work with the European Union. The E.U. is in the early stages of negotiating the exit of the United Kingdom, which is seen as damaging to the 28-member trading block, but not fatal. Le Pen had promised as president to call a referendum to pull France out of the E.U., which would have threatened to destroy the institution.
The White House released a statement Sunday congratulating Macron; “We look forward to working with the new President and continuing our close cooperation with the French government.”
A few minutes earlier, President Trump tweeted his congratulations to Macron, saying he looks forward to working with him.
Macron’s victory is not a surprise as polls routinely showed him far ahead of Le Pen. Political observers insisted that she faced an electoral glass ceiling because they perceived her positions as too extreme to win over the majority of French voters.
On Wednesday, the candidates faced off in a gripping televised debate that ran two and a half hours without any commercial breaks. Le Pen, who is a fiery speaker with a laser-focused message, was expected to clobber Macron, who has little political experience. Macron had served as economy minister in the outgoing, deeply unpopular government of President Francois Hollande. Outgoing President also voted Sunday.
Le Pen spent most of the evening on the attack, but provided few detailed solutions to France’s myriad problems, which include a 23-percent youth unemployment rate — France’s unemployment rate is nearly 10 percent, among the highest in Europe, and a spate of horrifying, terrorist attacks in recent two years.
The deep divisions in the country were clear in the vicious debate where the anger, bitterness and personal dislike between the two candidates were on display, something observers said hurt her numbers.
“The high priestess of fear is sitting in front of me,” Macron said. Le Pen told Macron “You are the France of submission.”
Both the news media and public opinion suggested Macron was the clear winner.
“It is not only the intellectual, political and moral heritage of France which is at stake now, but also the future of a united Europe, master of its own destiny, the future of a world that we have decided to take part in (globalization),” Macron said in an interview on French television ahead of the poll.
On Friday, hackers dumped a trove of emails from Macron’s campaign on the internet in an apparent attempt to damage his candidacy just ahead of Sunday’s vote. But the French government warned both the media and citizens not to spread the hacked documents and abide by a traditional black-out ahead of the vote. The hacked documents did not appear to gain much traction and were not seen to have an effect on today’s results.
The vote was historic, and seen by many as a turning point in French politics. In a sign of revolt against the established political class, the poll was the first in the history of the modern republic where mainstream parties were shut out.
“France voted for change, but not revolution,” wrote VOANews.
Paris main mosque said Macron election gives hope to French Muslims — a sign of reconciliation between French religions.
“It is a clear sign of hope to French Muslims that they can live in harmony and respect of French values”, La Grande Mosquée de Paris said in a statement.