Macron honeymoon may be short-lived as France’s far-right and left prepare to do battle

Other presidents before him have learnt painful lessons about the power of the street, how trade unions can block reform, stage disruptive strikes and demonstrations and paralyse society if they feel their members’ interests are threatened, Colin Randall writes in Nice

French president-elect Emmanuel Macron, left, and the outgoing president, Francois Hollande, attend a ceremony to mark the end of the Second World War in Europe at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on May 8, 2017. Philippe Wojazer, Pool via AP
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NICE // As he awaits the transfer of power that will formally install him as France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron has been left in no doubt that the hardest part of his task starts now.

Mr Macron, 39, a former banker and socialist minister-turned-centrist, won handsomely against the far-right’s Marine Le Pen. The final count from the interior ministry put his total at 66.1 per cent of the vote against Ms Le Pen’s 33.9 per cent.

Amid the euphoria of an exceptional triumph that was once considered impossible, Mr Macron told cheering supporters at the Louvre museum in Paris on Sunday night that he would strive to remove any further reason “to vote for an extremist position”. He had heard and understood the “rage, anxiety and doubt” of the many French electors and would use his five years in office to combat the “forces of division that undermine France”.

But while the margin of his win amounts to a clear landslide, several features make it less than a ringing endorsement of Mr Macron and his movement, En Marche (Forward), which he founded just over a year ago.

An estimated 43 per cent of the 20.7 million French people who voted for him on Sunday did so to register their rejection of the anti-European Union, anti-immigration Ms Le Pen rather than their support of him and his policies.

Well over a third of those eligible to vote (36.9 per cent), especially the young and unemployed, abstained or submitted spoiled or blank papers.

Between the first round of the election on April 23 and Sunday’s run-off, Ms Le Pen temporarily stood down as leader of her Front National (FN) party in a barely disguised attempt to win the hearts of voters who were put off by its association with racism and xenophobia.

But with around 10.6 million second-round votes, she feels entitled to present herself as France’s main opposition force. She intends to rename the party and break finally with a past inextricably linked to her father Jean-Marie, from whom she is estranged, and mount a serious challenge for the presidency in 2022.

However, president-to-be Macron will face challenges from the left as well as the far right. Other presidents have learnt painful lessons about the power of the street, how trade unions can block reform, stage disruptive strikes and demonstrations and paralyse society if they feel their members’ interests are threatened.

As Laurent Berger, the secretary general of one of France’s largest trade union confederations, the CFDT, put it before Sunday’s run-off: “The only way to fight the Front National is to put Emmanuel Macron on your ballot paper. Then the CFDT will do its work for the rights of workers.”

A former socialist justice minister, Christiane Taubira, also warned Mr Macron to take heed of the anger of French youth.

“We will be there to remind him of it as often as necessary, as loudly as necessary, as resolutely as necessary, “ she said.

Mr Macron must also ensure he has the support of parliament to enable him to implement key parts of his manifesto. He said on Friday that he had already chosen his prime minister but would not reveal who it was until after taking office.

En Marche enters next month’s legislative elections without an established power base. Mr Macron has said the movement will field hundreds of candidates, including some drawn from other parties though they will have to abandon their previous allegiances.

A poll conducted after his victory was confirmed on Sunday suggested that 61 per cent of voters do not want his movement to have an absolute majority, another sign that the electorate is still not entirely convinced by him. If he does not get that majority in the National Assembly, the scene will be set for a governing coalition or “cohabitation” – meaning one party holding the presidency, and another dominating parliament. Either scenario could prove messy and hamper Mr Macron’s hopes of ruling effectively.

On Monday, at the invitation of the outgoing socialist president, Francois Hollande, Mr Macron attended the Paris commemorations of the Allies’ victory in Europe over Nazi Germany in the Second World War. The formal transfer of presidential powers will take place on Sunday, and the honeymoon period for Mr Macron may then be brief.

But for now at least, the president-elect can rest assured that his victory over Ms Le Pen – however qualified – was emphatic.

She would almost certainly have lost more heavily had Mr Macron not been tainted by association with president Hollande’s failures, or if the centre-right had fielded a candidate who was untouched by scandal. In the event, former prime minister Francois Fillon, who was defeated in the first round, may face criminal prosecution over allegations that he paid his British-born wife, Penelope, and two of their five children thousands of euros from public funds for little or no work.

Ms Le Pen also faces questioning in a series of inquiries covering the allegedly fictitious employment of staff in European parliamentary positions, the financing of past elections and her own tax affairs.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae