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Macron wins but Le Pen ensures French govt will be under pressure to fight jihad

While President Emmanuel Macron has won another term, the strong runner-up Marine Le Pen has shown the French people are fed up with Muslim excesses

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French President Emmanuel Macron has comfortably won his re-election for a second term. Amid the French polling agencies’ projections in the midst of Russia’s war on Ukraine, the result has offered the European Union a reassurance of stable leadership in the bloc’s only nuclear-armed power. France’s allies are relieved also because of similar political developments in their respective territories, with the native White population threatened by Muslim immigrants.

A second five-year term for the 44-year-old centrist spared France and Europe from the seismic upheaval of a shift of power to firebrand White Christian right-winger Marine Le Pen, Macron’s presidential election challenger who quickly conceded defeat but still appeared on course for her best-ever showing. Now, with such a resounding show of popularity of the anti-Muslim sentiment, Macron has little choice but to renew his war on jihad with renewed gusto.

Acknowledging that “numerous” voters had cast ballots for him simply to keep out Le Pen’s fiercely nationalist policies, Macron pledged to reunite the country “filled with so many doubts, so many divisions” and work to assuage the voter anger that fed Le Pen’s campaign. “No one will be left by the side of the road,” he said in a victory speech against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower and a projection of the blue-white-and-red tricolor French flag.

“We have a lot to do and the war in Ukraine reminds us that we are going through tragic times where France must make its voice heard,” Macron said, as several hundred supporters happily waved French and flags to the beat of Daft Punk’s “One More Time.”

During her campaign, Le Pen had pledged to dilute French ties with the 27-nation EU, Nato and Germany — moves that would have shaken Europe’s security architecture as the continent deals with its worst conflict since World War II.

Le Pen also spoke out against sanctions on Russian energy supplies and faced scrutiny during the campaign over her previous friendliness with the Kremlin.

A chorus of European leaders hailed Macron’s victory. “Democracy wins, Europe wins,” said Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

“Together we will make France and Europe advance,” tweeted European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Italian Premier Mario Draghi hailed Macron’s victory as “splendid news for all of Europe” and a boost to the EU “being a protagonist in the greatest challenges of our times, starting with the war in Ukraine.”

Five years ago, Macron had won a sweeping victory over Le Pen to become France’s youngest president at 39. The margin is expected to be much smaller this time: Polling agencies Opinionway, Harris and Ifop projected yesterday that Macron would win at least 57% of the vote.

Le Pen had been projected to win between 41.5% and 43% support — a still unprecedented result for the 53-year-old on her third attempt to win the French presidency.

Early official results in France’s presidential runoff are expected. If the projections hold, Macron will become only the third president since the 1958 founding of modern France to win twice at the ballot box, and the first in 20 years, since incumbent Jacques Chirac trounced Le Pen’s father in 2002.

In fact, Chirac had defeated Jean-Marie Le Pen under a similar situation in 2002 when the French people, still romancing their leftist, liberal past, were spooked by the prospect of a far-right politician becoming their president. It was only the second round of that presidential election — France holds two rounds of this election to ensure the winner enjoys the support of more than 50% of voters — that Chirac managed to defeat Le Pen Sr.

Marine Le Pen called her results “a shining victory,” saying that “in this defeat, I can’t help but feel a form of hope.” Breaking through the threshold of 40% of the vote is unprecedented for the French far-right. Le Pen was beaten 66% to 34% by Macron in 2017 and her father got less than 20% against Chirac.

She and hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, one of the 10 candidates eliminated in the first round on 10 April, both quickly pitched forward to France’s legislative election in June, urging voters to give them a parliamentary majority to hamstring Macron.

Le Pen’s score this time rewarded her years-long efforts to make her far-right politics more palatable to voters. Campaigning hard on cost-of-living issues, she made deep inroads among blue-collar voters in disaffected rural communities and in former industrial centres.

The projected drop in support for Macron compared to five years ago points to a tough battle ahead for the president to rally people behind him in his second term. Many French voters found the 2022 presidential rematch less compelling than in 2017, when Macron was an unknown factor, having never previously held elected office.

Leftist voters — unable to identify with either the centrist president or Le Pen’s fiercely nationalist platform — agonised with the choices available yesterday. Some trooped reluctantly to polling stations solely to stop Le Pen, casting joyless votes for Macron.

“It was the least worst choice,” said Stephanie David, a transport logistics worker who backed a communist candidate in round one. It was an impossible choice for retiree Jean-Pierre Roux. Having also voted communist in round one, he dropped an empty envelope into the ballot box yesterday, repelled both by Le Pen’s politics and what he saw as Macron’s arrogance. “I am not against his ideas but I cannot stand the person,” Roux said.

In contrast, Marian Arbre, voting in Paris, cast his ballot for Macron “to avoid a government that finds itself with fascists, racists.” “There’s a real risk,” the 29-year-old fretted.

Macron went into the vote with a sizeable lead in polls but faced a fractured, anxious and tired electorate. The war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic battered Macron’s first term, as did months of violent protests against his economic policies, which created fertile ground for Le Pen.

With the ’s only seat on the UN Security Council and only nuclear arsenal, the outcome in France was being watched across the 27-nation bloc. France has played a leading role in international efforts to punish Russia with sanctions and is supplying weapons to Ukraine.

Appealing to working-class voters struggling with surging prices, Le Pen vowed that bringing down the cost of living would be her priority and argued that Macron’s presidency had left the country deeply divided.

Macron sought to appeal to voters of immigrant heritage and religious minorities, especially because of Le Pen’s proposed policies targeting Muslims and putting French citizens first in line for jobs and benefits. He also touted his environmental and climate accomplishments, hoping to draw in young voters who backed left-wing candidates in round one.

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