Macron secures second term in a divided French nation 

April 25, 2022 - 17:34

Current President Emmanuel Macron has defeated Marine Le Pen in the second round of France’s elections but faces an uphill task to unite a much more polarized nation than when he first took the helm in 2017.

The country’s Interior Ministry announced the final result that saw Macron win a second term in office with 58.55 percent of the votes compared to Le Pen's 41.45 percent.

Five years ago Macron swept to victory over his same rival with 66 percent of the votes. 

Around 49 million people were eligible to cast their ballots but 49 million people certainly did not cast their ballots with voter turnout also lower. Abstention has been put at 28 percent which is the highest on record in 50 years.

Despite becoming the first French President to secure two consecutive terms in two decades, Macron acknowledged the “anger” and “disappointment” in his victory speech saying the country was torn apart by “doubt” and “division”.

As the vote-counting process began reports surfaced of people protest voting by casting a blank ballot. The number of spoiled votes coupled with the abstention rate were both alarmingly high.

The lead-up to this election was dominated by the rise of the far-right candidates in France, spearheaded by Le Pen. The Rassemblement National party leader, who previously said she would ban the Muslim headscarf in public and after three attempts for the Presidency’s post, has never come so close to winning. 

Many experts have criticized Macron’s own anti-Muslim and xenophobic stances over the past couple of years in a country that has between five to six million Muslims (the highest in Europe) for the rise of the far-right by tapping into extremist ideologies. 

Observers say the longer Macron governs, the more the ultra-right will grow in strength. 

The polls and the evidence (such as the lowest turnout in modern history) suggest not only French Muslims are frustrated with the racist rhetoric. 

The younger generation are also said to have been marginalized from the election with an increasing number staying away from the ballot boxes. 

Perhaps not a surprise then that the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon came third in the first round of this election, where no candidate received more than the required 50 percent of the votes. 

Macron acknowledged many people did not vote for him because of the French President’s policies or popularity but rather to refrain Le Pen from entering the Presidential palace. 

He said “I also know that many French people voted for me to block the far right. I also want to thank them, and tell them that their vote places me under an obligation,” Macron also touched on “those who abstained, could not decide and those who voted for Marine Le Pen.”

He pledged “to heal the divisions that have been expressed in these elections,” claiming he would do this “by ensuring respect for everyone, every day. I want a fairer society”

But analysts argue the longer he stays in power the stronger the ultra-right would become with some saying the fact a far-right candidate came close to winning this time, it’s very possible they will win next time. 

In a central Paris neighborhood, riot police charged at and sprayed tear gas on demonstrators to break up a crowd of hundreds of mostly young angry protesters who had gathered to rally against both candidates. 

In a short speech, conceding defeat, Le Pen said her result was “a striking victory” and that the ideas she represented “had reached new heights”, adding “In this defeat, I can’t help but feel a hope.” 

Le Pen also noted she will not be standing down from politics, as many pundits had suspected she would if she lost.

The other major issue of this election had been the state of the economy with inflation being a major factor. The rise in the prices of goods and services is being accelerated by the war in Ukraine. 

This would suggest that French support for the conflict is fading among the French public, something Macron spent the campaign trail focusing on while Le Pen is said to have good ties with Russia and campaigned much more in different regions on the streets of France. 

For the working class and the poor, the French economy has truly been staggered with the younger generation having a very difficult time finding employment. 

Analysts say Macron hasn’t accomplished much on the domestic front for these three sections of society, leaving them angry and alienated. Polls indicate a large proportion of people are having trouble making ends meet and the cost of living became one of the key issues of the campaign.

The heavy-handed crackdown on the weekly yellow vest protests under Macron’s tenure will go down in the history books for all the wrong reasons. 

Nevertheless, this was a very important election for the European Union, the leaders of whom were watching very closely. Le Pen had regularly stated her dissatisfaction with the purpose of the EU and was expected to have been on a collision course with the bloc. 

France holds the EU six-month presidency and had set its policies for the 27-nation Union, Macron is likely to continue with his previous five-year role of trying to lead Europe diplomatically. Whether that has been classified as a success or even achieving its desired results is open to debate. 

Critics say the EU has failed to break away from Washington’s dominance over Europe and continues to support U.S. international policies. 

The European Council President Charles Michel, as well as the Prime Ministers of Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany’s chancellor, were among the first global leaders to congratulate Macron.

Also on the international front It’s a major win for NATO whose members, analysts argue, like to militarily intervene in other countries or ignite the fire of a conflict and stand back watching as their military-industrial complexes make a profit. 

A win for Le Pen would have pulled Paris out of the NATO integrated command structure. The French military would not have taken orders from NATO command dealing the Western alliance a major setback.

The major underlying challenge for Macron is reflected in the fact that while both contenders had their (smaller than expected) share of voters; a significant percentage of the ballots casted in France’s 2022 presidential election were votes of rejection. 

To say the country is deeply divided would be an understatement, as his second term begins Macron has a major challenge ahead to serve and unite not just the French population but also French politics. 

Parliamentary elections take place on 12 and 19 June amid mounting political opposition. Macron’s party and its allies need a majority of 289 MPs in the 577-seat lower house. The elections will outline the nature of Macron’s government.

Macron has called for a “big new political movement” which observers say was an appeal to the far right and left to reach a majority. 

Newly elected Presidents in France tend to easily achieve a parliamentary majority usually because of the lower number of votes for the opposition. 

But this election is different, especially with Le Pen gaining more votes than had been predicted and not standing down from politics as had also been expected. She has pledged a strong opposition parliamentary bloc. 

Despite a tough election process, the hard work is just about to begin for the French President.

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