Macron's second term is not without its challenges

Even with a comfortable winning lead, the French President will have to do more to heal divisions

French President Emmanuel Macron arrives to deliver a speech after being re-elected, in Paris, France, on April 24. Reuters
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With Emmanuel Macron winning the second and final round of the French presidential election on Sunday night, his country and the rest of Europe will have been spared a "political earthquake", as was being described in the run-up to the vote. Had his challenger, Marine Le Pen, who won a substantial 41.5 per cent of the vote share, been elected to France's highest office, it is unclear how quickly the congratulations would have trickled in for the far-right candidate from around the globe.

On the other hand, the good wishes for Mr Macron, a centrist politician who won a comfortable 58.5 per cent of the vote, flowed immediately after the result was announced. The international community, from US President Joe Biden to Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, all conveyed their messages of congratulations.

Mr Macron became only the second incumbent in France to win a second consecutive term in the past 20 years, and his victory speech at the foot of the Eiffel Tower was directed to all French men and women, even those who did not vote for him, including 28 per cent of the electorate who “voted blank” just to keep Ms Le Pen out of the Elysee Palace.

His outreach, at a time when France is deeply divided, is important.

Following the defeat of their respective candidates in the first round of this election, it is clear that the popularity and relevance of the Republicans and the Socialists, traditional parties that have helmed France for decades, have waned. Mr Macron's "La Republique en Marche", founded shortly before the previous presidential election, in 2017, remains among the few moderate parties that are still relevant. But even as the divisive factions on the far right have been kept at bay for now, the traction Ms Le Pen's National Rally party gained in this election – along with the reasons for the sizeable discontentment across the country – is something that the Macron administration will need to be mindful of. In the final round of the 2017 election, Mr Macron defeated Ms Le Pen by more than 30 percentage points. The margin was narrowed to about 17 points this time around. Since its inception, the party founded by Ms Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, has never come so close to winning the presidency as it did on Sunday. If the dissatisfaction of the electorate is not properly addressed, the next election might turn out very differently.

Mr Macron, 44, finds himself with a weaker mandate than he did five years ago. His first term was severely limited by the gilet jaunes protests of 2018 and 2019, in which clashes broke out in several cities over rising living costs and fuel taxes. Even as the President has tackled key issues such as unemployment, cost of living remains high – an issue Ms Le Pen persistently raised during her campaign. There is the added spectre of Islamophobia, animosity towards immigrants and the growing threat of the far right, increasingly taking up space in the mainstream. For now, Mr Macron has managed to counter the threat of populism. But beginning with the parliamentary election in June, of which Ms Le Pen spoke with great hope in her concession speech, the challenges awaiting the President are plenty. Mr Macron will once again need to prove that he is the right man for the job.

Published: April 25, 2022, 11:45 AM