French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte Macron, celebrate after his victory in France’s presidential election, on the Champ de Mars in Paris on April 24, 2022.THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images

France re-elected its centrist president Emmanuel Macron by a comfortable margin after a close campaign, handing far-right populist Marine Le Pen a heavy defeat and reaffirming the country’s place in NATO and the European Union for the next five years. .

Projections showed Macron getting 58 percent of the vote to Le Pen’s 42 percent.

The result represents a success for the “Republican Front” of voters left and right who have pledged to support the relatively unpopular Macron as a way to block the anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic nationalism of Le Pen’s Rassemblement National party.

It also strengthens European unity and the Western military alliance at a time when they are being tested by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Ms Le Pen is a longtime supporter of the regime of Vladimir Putin, who has vowed to reduce France’s role in NATO and the EU if elected, while Mr Macron has been a key diplomatic player in the talks. with Russia and the armament of the Ukrainian forces.

This re-election is a stunning personal achievement for Macron, a former banker who founded his own political party before defeating Le Pen in 2017 to become president at the age of just 39, promising to transcend ideological boundaries with an administration. that was “neither to the right nor to the left”. He cut unemployment and mounted a strong response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but his perceived elitism has fueled populist unrest, especially during the yellow vests Protests in 2018.

In a concession speech, Ms. Le Pen also hailed her result as a “landing victory” as she came closer to power than her party had ever before. The contest revealed a growing mainstream acceptance of Le Pen’s brand of extreme nationalism. He vowed to ban the wearing of the hijab in public, a move Macron said was contrary to French universalism and would trigger a “civil war”, and promised a referendum to give French citizens priority over immigrants in housing and employment. .

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Amid Russia’s war against Ukraine, he called for removing France from NATO’s integrated military command, while urging the West to move closer to Putin. That became an issue during the campaign, as Macron tried to portray her as a Kremlin puppet, highlighting the millions her party borrowed from a Russian bank.

As polls remained tight following a first round of voting that sent the finalists into a runoff, political leaders across the spectrum urged their supporters to back the incumbent as their candidate. bombing, or prey, against the extreme right. Former conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy supported Macron, who was once a socialist economy minister, and a leading environmentalist presidential candidate urged a strategic vote for Macron “without pleasure but without hesitation.”

The leader of France’s far-right party Rassemblement National, Marine Le Pen, greets supporters after the results of the second round vote at the Pavillon d’Armenonville on April 24, 2022 in Paris. Ms. Le Pen also hailed her result as a ‘landslide victory’ as she came closer to power than her party ever before.Chesnot/Getty Images

It was the third time in 20 years that the French have been called upon to unite against a Le Pen presidency, and fewer and fewer have been willing. In 2002, Jacques Chirac refused to debate Jean-Marie Le Pen, the father of the current candidate and founder of his party, before obtaining 82 percent of the vote. In 2017, Macron won 66% of the vote against Le Pen.

This time, the dam showed more cracks. The first round of voting on April 10 revealed little enthusiasm for Macron’s brand of economic liberalism and pro-European foreign policy. Far-right and far-left candidates received more than 50 percent of the vote, roughly double the president’s tally.

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A long-term strategy of “demonization” continues to improve Ms. Le Pen’s position. She has managed to soften her image by abandoning more radical proposals, such as leaving the EU altogether, and through symbolic gestures such as expelling her father from the party after she repeated her claim that the Holocaust was a “detail of the history”.

He has also courted working-class voters by focusing more on pocketbook issues, such as cutting fuel taxes, and criticizing Macron for his government’s affinity with big business, including his close ties to US consultancy McKinsey.

The candidacy of Éric Zemmour, an even more extreme opponent of immigration at the head of a party called ¡Reconquista!, further helped to moderate Ms. Le Pen’s image. He received around 7 per cent of the vote in the first round and warned that immigrants would “replace” France’s aging population, a theory Ms Le Pen has rejected.

A series of unpopular economic reforms by Macron, including a tax cut that benefited the wealthy and a proposed increase in the retirement age, earned him a reputation as “president of the rich” and fueled Le Pen’s self-presentation as a tribune. of the working class.

With his lofty talk and technocratic policies, the president is a “perfect lightning rod for populists,” said Catherine Fieschi, director of Counterpoint, a Paris-based political research and advisory firm, and author of Populocracy: the tyranny of authenticity and the rise of populism.

Faced with a choice between two familiar and highly unsavory figures, many French voters abstained from casting their ballots on Sunday. Early estimates put turnout in the second round at 72%, which would be the lowest rate since 1969.

From behind the counter of the wine shop where she works in Paris, Emma Brunant said that although the prospect of a Le Pen presidency left her “sad” and “scared”, she did not dare vote for either candidate.

“You have one that is far-right and one that is at the beck and call of all major industries,” he said.

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