Emmanuel Macron was elected president of France on Sunday with a business-friendly vision of European integration, defeating Marine Le Pen, a far-right nationalist who threatened to take France out of the European Union.
The centrist’s emphatic victory, which also smashed the dominance of France’s mainstream parties, will bring huge relief to European allies who had feared another populist upheaval to follow Britain’s vote to quit the EU and Donald Trump’s election as US president, Reuters reports.
Pollsters’ projections gave Macron a winning margin of around 65 percent to 35 – a gap wider than the 20 or so percentage points that pre-election surveys had suggested, the news agency said.
Even so, it was a record performance for the National Front, a party whose anti-immigrant policies once made it a pariah in French politics, and underlined the scale of the divisions that Macron must now try to heal.
“I know the divisions in our nation, which have led some to vote for the extremes. I respect them,” Macron said in an earnest address at his campaign headquarters, shown live on television.
“I know the anger, the anxiety, the doubts that very many of you have also expressed. It’s my responsibility to hear them,” he said.
“I will work to recreate the link between Europe and its peoples, between Europe and citizens.”
His immediate challenge will be to secure a majority in next month’s parliamentary election for En Marche! (Onwards!), a political movement that is barely a year old, in order to implement his program.
Macron’s team successfully managed to skirt several attempts to derail his campaign – by hacking its communications and distributing purportedly leaked documents – that were reminiscent of the hacking of Democratic Party communications during Hillary Clinton’s US election campaign.
Allegations by Macron’s camp that it had been targeted in a massive computer hack that compromised emails added last-minute drama on Friday night, just as official campaigning was ending.
The 39-year-old former investment banker, who served for two years as economy minister under President Francois Hollande, but has never previously held elected office, will become France’s youngest leader since Napoleon.
Le Pen, 48, said she had also offered her congratulations. But she defiantly claimed the mantle of France’s main opposition in calling on “all patriots to join us” in constituting a “new political force”.
Her tally of around 35 percent was almost double the score that her father Jean-Marie, the last far-right candidate to make the presidential runoff, achieved in 2002, when he was trounced by the conservative Jacques Chirac.
Her high-spending, anti-globalization “France first” policies may have unnerved financial markets but they appealed to many poorer members of society against a background of high unemployment, social tensions and security concerns.
Despite having served briefly in Hollande’s deeply unpopular Socialist government, Macron managed to portray himself as the man to revive France’s fortunes by recasting a political landscape moulded by the left-right divisions of the last century.
While Macron sees France’s way forward in boosting the competitiveness of an open economy, Le Pen wanted to shield French workers by closing borders, quitting the EU’s common currency, the euro, radically loosening the bloc and scrapping trade deals.
When he moves into the Elysee Palace after his inauguration next weekend, Macron will become the eighth – and youngest – president of France’s Fifth Republic.
He plans to blend a big reduction in public spending and a relaxation of labour laws with greater investment in training.
A European integrationist and pro-NATO, he is orthodox in foreign and defense policy and shows no sign of wishing to change France’s traditional alliances or reshape its military and peacekeeping roles in the Middle East and Africa.
Any idea of a brave new political dawn will be tempered by a projected abstention rate on Sunday of around 25 percent, the highest this century, and by estimates that around 9 percent of those who did vote cast blank or spoiled ballots.
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