After French win, Macron fields congratulations but has little time to bask in glory

Political newcomer Emmanuel Macron will be France’s next president, pollsters projected Sunday night
Emmanuel Macron received congratulations from around the world — including Moscow — on Monday after French voters made the centrist political neophyte their new president and rejected anti-E.U. firebrand Marine Le Pen.But the raucous celebration among Macron supporters Sunday night — which also served as pep rally for the European Union — quickly gave way to the steep challenges ahead for Macron’s untested leadership.Among the immediate demands will be trying to maintain momentum in next month’s parliamentary election, in which hundreds of candidates will run under the banner of Macron’s year-old movement, En Marche, or Onward.The longer-term hurdles are even more daunting. The 39-year-old Macron must try to pull together a nation left with many of the same political scars carried by the United States: deeply divided voters and lingering suspicions of Russian hacking to try to sway the results.

On Monday morning, Macron joined his mentor and soon-to-be-predecessor, François Hollande, in laying a wreath in honor of the country’s war dead on Victory in Europe Day.

Emmanuel Macron, France’s newly elected president, vowed in his victory speech on May 7 to “unite” and “reconcile” French people after a contentious campaign. Macron defeated French far-right leader Marine Le Pen in a runoff. (Reuters)

The outgoing president made time to pat Macron on the back and offer an apparently heartfelt “Bravo,” a sentiment echoed by leaders from around the world, including Russian President Vladi­mir Putin.

In a message to Macron — who has taken a tough line with Moscow — Putin urged the president-elect to “overcome mutual distrust” and wished him “strong health.”

Macron, the youngest French leader since Napoleon, will be inaugurated Sunday and will have little time to adjust to his new office before he is thrust back into campaign mode with the parliamentary elections.

Without a majority in the National Assembly — or something close to it — Macron’s five-year tenure as president could be severely compromised before it even starts.

But Macron has beat the odds before.

His election brought to a close a tumultuous and polarized campaign that defied prediction at nearly every turn, although not at the end. Pre-election polls had forecast a sizable Macron victory, and he delivered — winning 66 percent of the vote with an ambitious agenda that borrows from both the right and left.

The landslide was just the latest blow in 2017 for far-right movements that had seemed to be on the march last year but have suffered setbacks in recent months across continental Europe.

In a pointed endorsement of European unity, Macron strode to the stage at his raucous victory party in the grand central courtyard of Paris’s Louvre Museum on Sunday night to the strains of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” theme, the European Union’s anthem.

“The task that awaits us, my fellow citizens, is immense and it starts tomorrow,” Macron said as thousands of supporters cheered and waved French flags.

Alluding to the deep divisions laid bare by the campaign, he said Le Pen backers had “expressed an anger, a dismay, and I respect that. I will do everything possible in the five years to come so that they have no reason to vote for the extremes.”

At her own gathering at a Paris restaurant and events center, a downcast Le Pen conceded defeat, telling her demoralized supporters that the country had “chosen continuity” and that the election had drawn clear lines between “the patriots and the globalists.”

She also vowed to make her National Front the “primary force of opposition” to Macron’s government. She later danced with supporters, shimmying to the tune of the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.”

The repudiation of Le Pen by French voters will soothe Europe’s anxious political establishment. Across the continent, mainstream politicians had feared that a victory would throw in reverse decades of efforts to forge continental integration.

But the outcome instantly puts pressure on Macron to deliver on promises made to an unhappy French electorate, including reform of two institutions notoriously resistant to change: the E.U. and the French bureaucracy.

With a background in investment banking and a turn as economy minister under a historically unpopular president, he may have seemed an ill fit for the anti-establishment anger coursing through Western politics.

But by bucking France’s traditional parties, Macron managed to cast himself as the outsider the country needs. And by unapologetically embracing the E.U., immigration and the multicultural tableau of modern France, he positioned himself as the optimistic and progressive antidote to the dark and reactionary vision of Le Pen’s National Front.

Le Pen, 48, has long sought to become the first far-right leader elected in Western Europe’s postwar history. Sunday’s vote frustrated those ambitions but is unlikely to end them.

By winning about 34 percent of the vote, she nearly doubled the share claimed by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in the 2002 election, the only other time the National Front’s presidential candidate has made it to the second round of voting. The result seemed to cement the party’s long march from the political fringe to the center of the nation’s discontented political discourse, if not the pinnacle of its power.

Struggling with chronically high unemployment and recurrent terrorist attacks, France’s mood on the day of its presidential vote was reflected in the dark clouds and chilly spring rains that blanketed much of the country.

Nonetheless, the public voted at a rate that would be the envy of many Western democracies: From the chic neighborhoods of Paris to the struggling postindustrial towns of the French countryside, turnout nationwide was about 75 percent, down slightly from previous votes.

Macron’s victory could have profound implications not only for France’s 67 million citizens, but also for the future of Europe and for the political trajectory across the Western world.

After a pair of dramatic triumphs for the populist right in 2016 — Brexit in Britain and Donald Trump in the United States — France’s vote was viewed as a test of whether the political mainstream could beat back a rising tide.

Many of Europe’s mainstream leaders — both center-right and center-left — lined up to cheer Macron on after he punched his ticket to the second round in voting last month. The endorsements were a break from protocol for presidents and prime ministers, who normally stay out of one another’s domestic elections.

But they reflected the gravity of the choice that France faced. A victory by Le Pen was seen as a possible market-rattling death blow to decades of efforts to draw Europe more closely together, with the National Front leader expected to try to take the country out of both the E.U. and the euro.

Former president Barack Obama had also endorsed Macron, and the young French politician often appeared to be trying to emulate the magic of Obama’s 2008 campaign with speeches that appealed to hope, change and unity — while eliding many of the details of his policies.

The current White House occupant was cagey about his choice, saying before the first round that Le Pen was “the strongest on borders and she’s the strongest on what’s been going on in France.” Trump predicted that she would do well, but he stopped short of endorsing her.

After Macron’s victory, Trump tweeted congratulations shortly after 3 p.m. Washington time on “his big win today as the next President of France. I look very much forward to working with him!”

Stanley-Becker reported from Laon. Benjamin Zagzag in Laon and Virgile Demoustier in Paris contributed to this report.


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