Victory, but not a triumph, for Emmanuel Macron

Emmanuel Macron is the first leader of France to be elected for a second term since Jacques Chirac in 2002. Like his predecessor, he was fortunate to contest the election run-off with a candidate from the populist Right, this time Marine Le Pen. In the event – as with Jean-Marie Le Pen 20 years ago – the French electorate was unwilling to contemplate the prospect of such a divisive figure in the Élysée Palace.

Despite Ms Le Pen’s efforts to shed the toxic legacy bequeathed by her father, enough voters on the Left appear to have fallen in behind Mr Macron, just as they did in 2017 when he created his own political movement to seize the presidency.

However, the exit polls suggest that he has not performed as well as he did then, his incumbency inevitably affecting his popularity. A credible candidate from the centre Left or Right might have defeated him, but the traditional parties have been shot to pieces and could not mount a challenge.

Mr Macron has sought to spread himself across the greater part of the French body politic, but in doing so he has had to tack this way and that on policy in order to appease the various constituencies he needed to win. Ahead of the first ballot, a fortnight ago, he maintained a lofty aloofness from the fray until the last minute, but has since been criticised for a lacklustre and confusing campaign with contradictory promises that he will find hard to keep over the next five years.

The fact remains that France, for the second election running, has cast huge numbers of votes behind a candidate who is considered to be on the extreme edge of constitutional politics.

She has pursued a culturally reactionary but socially progressive agenda that has appealed to many, especially in rural France. Moreover, although Ms Le Pen dropped her opposition to France’s EU membership, the election has hardly been a ringing endorsement of the president’s desire for closer military and diplomatic ties within the bloc.

Voters have become weary of leaders who promise much and deliver little, but getting anything changed in France has been an uphill struggle for many presidents. Mr Macron faces a similar struggle unless his political movement La République En Marche! secures a parliamentary majority in June, while Ms Le Pen, who, won 42 per cent of the vote, is unlikely to relinquish her ambition of one day becoming France’s first woman leader.

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