Emmanuel Macron is the new French President following a decisive victory over Marine Le Pen, but he still faces an uphill struggle to unite a divided nation.
Macron, running as an independent candidate who was “neither left nor right”, claimed 20,753,797 votes, or 66.1% of the vote, to see off Front National Leader Marine Le Pen, but there is still plenty to ponder.
Despite standing on a aggressively anti-immigration platform as part of a party steeped in far right rhetoric, Le Pen still racked up some 10,644,118 or 33.9% of the vote.
That’s almost double the number of votes her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, racked up in the 2002 presidential run-off, and it’s the clearest indication yet that the political landscape has changed significantly in France over the past 15 years.
Some may point to the fact that it’s lower than the 40% some polls had projected but it’s worth remembering that it still represents the highest return in the party’s 45-year history and also came despite a disastrous performance in the final TV debate before the election.
What many may not realise either is that Le Pen is now in the perfect position. The mission over the next few years for Le Pen will be to transform the Front National into a more appealing prospect ahead of elections in June and she’s well prepared for that.
Le Pen has already taken one step towards that, by resigning as leader of the party in a bid to widen its appeal, but the next step may be her boldest yet – to step down altogether. There’s already a viable successor in the wings, her niece and deputy Marion Marechal Le Pen, who is already being tipped by The Independent to succeed her aunt.
Elected to office as an MP back in 2012, the 27-year-old is something of a poster girl for Le Front National supporters and is known to hold more extreme views than her aunt, Marine. Crucially, The Independent is predicting that Marion could hold more significant sway with young voters, given that it’s estimated some 44% of voters aged between 18 and 24 voted for Marine Le Pen in these latest elections, alone.
From this position, it could simply be a situation of watching and waiting for Front National. “We are now the second party in the country,” Le Pen declared in the wake of her defeat. “It is up to us to confront the globalist agenda of Macron.”
An inexperienced politician who has risen to the office of President in just three years, Macron lacks experience at a turbulent time in France’s history and Le Pen’s party will be ready to pounce on any and all mistakes. Further incidents like the attacks on Paris and any potential problems involving the EU are just two areas where Front National will look to take advantage.
Then there’s Macron himself, a colourful character labelled a “smirking banker” in the election campaign and who has already generated the wrong kind of headlines for the fact his wife, Brigitte, once served as his teacher, back when he was just 15.
Macron could yet defy the naysayers and succeed in bringing the divided people of France back together, but one thing is for sure: change is needed.
Turnout for this latest election was the lowest in over four decades with nearly a third of those who did vote opting for neither Le Pen or Macron.
An astonishing 12 million people abstained from voting while 4.2 million spoiled their ballot papers. Macron needs to engage with this huge subsection of society and fast. Fail to do so, and they could yet come back to bite him.