Centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron has won a convincing victory in round two of the French presidential elections, defeating National Front candidate Marine Le Pen by about 65% to 35%. The figure is somewhat better than was forecast throughout most of the lead-up to the final bout, with Macron leading Le Pen by 60%-40% in polls. However, the polls began to turn after the sole debate between the two on Wednesday night, a contest that Le Pen was widely assessed to have lost and lost badly.
By Friday, les sondages were running at 62-38, and it would appear that they trended even more strongly in that direction in the last 24-48 hours. Turnout was assessed at 5pm as being 65%, the lowest turnout since 1969, when there was no left candidate in the final run-off, and down from 72% in 2012, and 75% hitherto. However, the turnout figure may rise as there was, very Gallicly, a campaign to have reluctant Macron supporters vote after 5pm, with the turnout gap making clear the limits of their support for Emmanuel. Bon, enfin, oy vey.
The result will be bitterly disappointing for National Front supporters. Many would have expected victory because they’re, well, delusional. An inner core would have expected some sort of psychological victory — taking Macron into the high 50s, within spitting distance of a low-40s result, would have done it — to set the party up for the inevitable fresh set of disappointments that Macron will provide. Going backwards, to an even third, is the reverse, a bragging defeat — two-thirds is a rule-of-thumb “will of the people” sort of victory.
The Wednesday night debate was Le Pen’s desperate lunge to get the party out of the 60-40 result, where it had been bogged for weeks. It was a bold strategy, which appears to have backfired badly. After years of mainstreaming the party, presenting it as ready for government, Le Pen committed to a pure Trump-style performance, needling, denouncing and interrupting Macron from 9pm to midnight. Macron struggled to control his temper and his focus, and was intent on keeping discussion of his own program to a minimum, so as not to alienate potential supporters from the Left. Le Pen, some suggested, was trying to lower the participation rate, through a feeling of general disgust at the political protest. If the 5pm turnout results hold, she will have succeeded in doing so. But she may have done so by turning some of her own supporters away.
Le Pen’s supporters gathered for a maximum security rally at the Bois des Vincennes, a park/reserve on the edge of Paris — symbolically, the only part of central Paris that is outside the “peripherique”, the ring road that separates the capital from the provinces. Half-a-dozen media outlets were excluded, of a leftish type, and Le BuzzFeed, cos fascists hate listicles too.
Le Pen spoke early, a mere quarter-hour after the official 8pm announcement of an interim result (taken from 250 polling places that habitually return votes close to the national total) said she was proud of the result, proud of her campaign, congratulated Macron and wished him well “for the good of France”. But she also promised vigorous opposition from a new “patriotic and republican alliance” — a sign that she will try and combine the FN with a smaller party called “France Stand Up”, and attract a section of the centre-right Republican party, which will be consumed by infighting after the failure of Francois Fillon’s candidacy.
For Macron, a far larger crowd gathered in the courtyard of the Louvre, about as central to the power and majesty of Republican France as one could imagine. Their joy was unconfined, an expression of pure relief. The crowds grew through the night; in the areas; in the streets of Paris, a steady stream of people, couples, families carrying tri-colours, streamed towards the gathering, after the dinner hour. Macron spoke twice, first before reaching the Louvre, with a more conciliatory speech, saying that he was aware of the disquiet among many, that his prime drive was to tackle inequality and division, but committed, above all, to Europe and the EU.
In the cafe where we were dining, they cheered and applauded the TV when Macron had finished speaking, as, in the street, the tri-colours floated by. When a short speech by solid left first-round candidate Jean Luc Melenchon was broadcast, talking of the broad social movement that had been created, that it was for neither fear and persecution, nor surrender to ingouvernable forces from beyond, the young waiter applauded and so did I.
“Ce n’est que moi?” (“Just me?”). He saw me and brightened. “Mais je suis touriste,” I said, and his shoulders mock-slumped. He’s probably been studying that gesture for five years at some nearby theatre school. Much of the political establishment will feel “le slump” also; attention now turns to the National Assembly elections in mid-June where, for the first time in quite a few years, the President will not have a moral sway over the vote, and get a majority of his choice. Macron will face a complex and divided house, which will offer the opportunity for a grand bargain, or years of more stasis.
As the night went on, tributes from world leaders flowed in, including this: “Congratulations to Emmanuel Macron on his big win today as the next President of France. I look very much forward to working with him!” from @realDonaldTrump. Macron is the first President of France to speak English competently, which means he also speaks it better than the current President of the United States. History keeps on happening.