PARIS, FRANCE —
Centrist Emmanuel Macron’s victory over Marine Le Pen in France’s presidential elections means one of the EU’s key nations has, for now, avoided a brush with nationalist politics. There are questions about whether Macron – who ran as an independent - will have a mandate to deliver.
At 39, Emmanuel Macron becomes the youngest man to lead France since Napoleon Bonaparte. He won on a promise of prosperity for all, and must now unite a country bitterly divided between globalists and nationalists.
“Europe and the world expect us to defend the spirit of the Enlightenment, under threat in so many places. They expect us to defend freedom everywhere, to protect the oppressed,” Macron told cheering supporters Sunday night at a victory rally held against a stunning backdrop of the ornate, classically French buildings of Paris’ Louvre Museum.
“They expect us to bring some new hope, a new humanism, that of a safer world, a world of protected freedoms, a world of growth, with more justice, more ecology. They expect us to be just who we are!” exclaimed Macron to a sea of French flag-waving revelers.
But demonstrations in the French capital Monday were a clear signal that the pressure is on him to deliver on promises that no one will be left behind as France continues in the path of globalization.
Hundreds of leftist demonstrators filled the city’s Place de la Republique Monday. They included unionists who loathe Macron’s proposals that include reforming the labor market, cutting public spending and slashing 120,000 public sector jobs.
“They are evidently very happy about the defeat of [Le Pen’s] National Front, but now we must remind Mr. Macron of the issues they have,” said Omar Trunier, an activist marching with a group of African asylum seekers.
One banner said: “Welcome Macron. We will have your skin.”
“He does not represent the majority of the people,” said a protester who asked not to be named, further underscoring the reality that many of the votes Macron received were protest votes against Marine Le Pen.
French officials said 4 million blank votes were submitted.
“We hope to install a good majority in the parliament to prevent him from doing what he hopes to do,” said the demonstrator.
Macron’s ultimate success depends on whether he gains a mandate in next month’s parliamentary elections.
“Emmanuel Macron was elected in a solid way, by a third of the votes, but we saw there were also many abstentions, blank votes, many, many more than usual,” said Henri Rey, a political analyst in Paris. “The situation is full of dangers for Emmanuel Macron. Why? Because he’s not backed by an already established party,” Rey told VOA.
But he has the backing of Europe.
Macron received hearty congratulations and expressions of relief from European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“I would like to help France lower its unemployment rate and to increase the chances of young people to find jobs. We will talk together about how we do this,” Merkel told reporters Monday.
A failure by Macron to deliver on jobs could be a lifeline for Marine Le Pen and a reason to believe her National Front will not go away. Unemployment and general economic insecurity brought record numbers of voters to the Le Pen camp, including members of the far left who helped her gain a solid 33 percent of votes.
“It’s a fantastic score. The party never won so high,” said political scientist Nonna Mayer, a specialist on far right movements.
The score amounts to almost double the support garnered by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 2002 - the last time the National Front party made it to the first round of a presidential race. In that contest, Jean-Marie Le Pen received 17.8 percent in losing to conservative Jacques Chirac, who got more than 82 percent.
Mayer said Marine Le Pen and the National Front will remain a force to contend with as long as unemployment remains high, an issue that has fueled anti-immigration sentiments and caused Le Pen’s nationalist message to resonate among many.
“You have the feeling that more and more people are afraid. They want protection. They want borders,” said Mayer. “Many people have the feeling that they are going to fall down the social scale and that there’s no future for their children.”