Poll results didn’t fail us this time with the French presidential election like they had in the Brexit referendum and the US presidential election last year.
The centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, who had been leading his major opponent, the ultra-rightist Marine Le Pen, in every major poll by a significant margin before election day, took 66 percent of the popular vote on May 9 and would become the next French president.
Macron’s victory has come as a relief not only for liberal and moderate voters in France, but perhaps for the entire European Union as well, whose solidarity is under serious threat as the Euroskeptic extreme right has been bestriding European politics like the Colossus in recent years.
His election to the country’s highest office at the age of just 39 is no doubt a phenomenal personal achievement as far as Macron himself is concerned.
However, the fact that he pulled off an emphatic victory in the election doesn’t necessarily mean he, and even the French people, are already home free.
It is because there are two major challenges lying before Macron which, if handled poorly, could derail his presidency.
First, as a political rookie who has very little experience in popular elections and only served briefly as the minister for the economy and finance under the incumbent president Francois Hollande, it remains to be seen whether Macron can make a good and capable president.
Besides, even though he was elected by 66 percent of the French voters, it doesn’t automatically mean he has already secured the support of the vast majority of the people.
His victory, in fact, can be largely attributed to the French people’s widespread disaffection with the mainstream Socialist and Republican parties on one hand, and their fear for the ultra-nationalist Marine Le Pen on the other.
Macron appeared to be their only viable option, or to put it more bluntly, the lesser evil.
He might have secured the people’s votes, but not necessarily their true hearts and minds.
To do that, he will have to work extra hard in the days ahead in order to prove that he is a truly capable leader who can guide his country and his people through economic hardship and escalating terrorist threats.
Second, even after winning the presidency, Macron has only gone halfway towards sealing his complete victory, as he is going to face an even tougher challenge next month, which is the election of the French National Assembly.
This election is so important that it has been referred to by the French media as the “third round of the presidential election”.
The results of this election will determine whether Macron will become a powerful leader who will enjoy a free hand in carrying out his policy initiatives during his term in office, or just a lame-duck president who will have to rely humbly on whoever holds the majority in the legislature to support him over the next five years.
Under the current French constitution, the president can name his own premier only when his own political party is able to win a majority of parliamentary seats in the general election and form a cabinet on its own.
In the case of a hung parliament, the French president can still pick his own premier as long as his party is able to ally with other parties and form a coalition government.
The problem is, since Macron’s own small and fledging political party, En Marche!, is highly unlikely to secure a majority of seats in the new legislature, it is inevitable that he will have to team up with either the Socialists or the Republicans, or both, in order to form a coalition government, or else he will have to relinquish his power to choose the premier to whichever party controls the National Assembly after the June election.
Simply put, unless Macron’s party is able to pull off a stunning victory in the upcoming election, which is highly unlikely, he will still have to rely on the “corrupt” mainstream political establishment in Paris to support his presidency in the coming days.
And in the worst-case scenario, if he in the end fails to form an alliance with either the Socialists or the Republicans, Macron will have to work with a premier named by the opposition, thereby greatly hampering his presidential power.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 9
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
– Contact us at [email protected]