Faire la Fête, But This Was a Near Miss. President Macron Must Get to Work

Sacré bleu, what a relief! Emmanuel Macron has been elected as France's youngest head of state since The Little Corporal clambered onto his throne, not without, it must be said, the help of a sturdy wooden footstool.

After the spectacularly dramatic X-Factor style countdown across French news channels, it was revealed that Macron had surged out of the exit polls with 65.1% of the vote, exceeding the 60% benchmark predicted by pollsters. This figure will of course change slightly as official results begin to pour in from across L'Hexagone.

As his victory was announced, the packed crowd of En Marche! supporters gathered at the Esplanade du Louvre erupted into raucous celebrations, filling the air with frantically waving Tricolores.

Meanwhile, over at Marine Le Pen's election day HQ, buried deep in the Bois de Vincennes, the atmosphere was very different. The former Front National leader wasted no time in taking the stage to deliver a short and succinct concession speech. Her opening remarks made little attempt to conceal her bitterness, saying: "The French people have chosen a new President of the Republic, and have voted for continuity."

After thanking her voters, she declared herself and her party as the main opposition as elected by the French people. She said: "The French have picked the patriot-republican alliance as their primary opposition... I will be at the head of this fight and bring together all those who still want to put France first."

She went on to declare that the Front National will evolve in response to this "historic opportunity", perhaps hinting at its renaming or the creation of a new party. A merger with Nicolas Dupont-Aignan's movement, Debout La France, is a definite possibility, given the pair's cooperation after the first round.

although Macron may have won, he's certainly got his work cut out him

Firmly confirming her as the 'baddie' of this election, everyone's least favourite islamaphobic goblin, Geert Wilders, sent her this bizarrely deluded tweet: "Well done anyway @MLP_officiel millions of patriots voted for you! You will win next time - and so will I!"

Predictably, Twitter burst into a flurry of action as soon as the results were announced: novelist Irvine Welsh tweeted: "I might head round to the specialist wine shop and get a quality bottle of Bordeaux to toast my friends in France. #ViveLaFrance." Not a bad idea, Irv! 

Whilst the predominant feelings were those of triumph and relief, there was also a definite sense of uncertainty and jaded cynicism about both Macron's victory and his potential as President. One such person tweeted: "Bittersweet results. Fortunately the far right has been defeated, but now what will it be in 5 years with a Macron presidency?... also that's a third of the voters who voted for the far right, and almost a third of the French population who didn't vote at all."

Yes, the French haven't made the same mistake the British did. They have bucked the trend set by Brexit and Trump. And they have stopped the much-discussed wave of right-wing populism supposedly sweeping across the Western world.

By all means head out, grab yourself a nice 2011 Bordeaux rouge and pour yourself a glass or three. But although Macron may have won, he's certainly got his work cut out him when he settles down for business at the Palais d'Elysée.

Firstly, we've got to talk about abstention. It is currently estimated that 25.3% of voters chose to abstain today, the highest in a French Presidential election since 1969.

Current figures suggest that the number of spoiled ballots cast, at nearly 9%, has hit an unprecedented high. Combine this with news that by 5pm, voter turnout had only risen to the relatively measly 65.4%, the lowest since the 2nd round of the 1981 election and 6.6% down from the last election in 2012. France has a potential problem.

Roughly a third of voters actively chose to vote for a far-right party

All of this suggests that a huge number of French people felt that they couldn't choose either candidate today, or simply felt too disillusioned to engage. Whilst the far-lefts embarrassingly puerile and misguided attempts to encourage abstention can be partly blamed for this, it reflects a worrying level of cynicism and apathy amongst the French electorate.

There's no way we can talk about tonight's results without comparing it to the frequently referenced clash between Jacques Chirac and Marine Le Pen's father, Jean Marie Le Pen, back in 2002. Even though he's apparently outdone pollster estimations, Macron's victory pales in comparison to Chirac's relative thrashing of big daddy Le Pen back in the day at 82.2% to 17.8%.

Macron may have won but this time round, it was an altogether less convincing victory. There was a far lower turnout, a far higher level of abstention and a far more intensely fought first round. This victory hasn't solved all of France's problems by any stretch of the imagination.

Even though Marine Le Pen has been defeated, the damage has effectively already been done. Roughly a third of voters actively chose to vote for a far-right party. And another third of them couldn't even get worried enough about that bunch to get out and vote.

The French got lucky tonight. This is what should be acknowledged as a near miss. If we ever needed it, this is clear evidence of France's profound socio-economic problems and the great lines of division that are becoming an unfortunate trend in 21st century politics. Let's hope M. Macron is up to the task, because he's got one hell of a job in front of him.


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About the author

Despite sharing the company of Rimbaud, Voltaire and co. for the third year in a row, Alec's real passion lies in writing. When the French degree permits it, he can be found scribbling away for a variety of publications, including The Spectator's Coffee House blog, Spiked-Online and - oh, how could he forget? - Disclaimer Mag!

A self-professed bon vivant, Alec is currently busy sunning himself in the South of France, whilst gleefully perusing the bountiful array of vin on offer. He's also been known to dabble in unscrupulous cheese-pairing. 

Follow Alec on Twitter.

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