Macron's victory signals new politics

Independent centrist Emmanuel Macron has won 66% of the votes to secure a decisive victory in the French presidential election. This is a remarkable victory as Macron entered active politics only recently and has never held elected office before. Macron symbolises change. His win signals the depth of French voter discontent with established political parties and politicians. His social liberal positions and promise of Nordic-style welfare programmes struck a chord with voters. However, Macron is no socialist; he has promised business-friendly reforms. Although some voters dismissed his vision as incoherent and confused, it appealed to the right, left and centre and was broad enough to defeat the far right. It is heartening that France rejected the xenophobic and anti-migrant politics espoused by the far-right’s Marine Le Pen. While she did seek to move away from the far more aggressive positions of her father, it wasn’t enough to win the presidency. Voters were unwilling to buy into her negative, anxiety-driven politics. 

The European Union, which was dealt a body blow with the Brexit vote last year, will be relieved with France’s vote of confidence in the 28-member grouping. Macron had campaigned on a pro-EU platform and his victory signals France’s faith in a European future. Whether the French result will force a British distancing from Theresa May in the upcoming UK elections remains to be seen. The disarray in the British opposition appears to be far too serious for the pro-EU mood in France, exemplified in Macron’s victory, to impact results in Britain.

Since Macron contested the presidential election as an independent, his party, En Marche!, will face its first electoral test in a little over a month when France votes in parliamentary elections. Transforming a fledgling outfit into a political force is a challenging task and Macron could find this more difficult than winning the presidency. In the final round of the just-concluded presidential election, France’s two main political parties backed Macron. But they will not do so in the parliamentary election and En Marche! will not be able to draw on their formidable infrastructure, resources and support base as Macron did in the presidential vote. If his party fails to pick up enough seats to form the new government, France’s new president would have to be content with a ‘co-habitation arrangement.’ This will restrict his ability to push his reform agenda through parliament.  However, it would be unwise to rule out a robust performance by En Marche! Just as Macron came almost from nowhere to take the Elysees Palace, En Marche! could form the new government on its electoral debut. That would shake and stir France’s old way of doing politics.

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