Despite his clear victory yesterday in the French presidential election against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, Emmanuel Macron now faces immense challenges in a highly polarized country.
The French have spoken — and once again in their long history, wisdom has prevailed. Emmanuel Macron’s victory is, in itself, a huge relief because this time, France was very close to tipping over and into the abyss.
It is a huge relief indeed, to see that deep down in the souls of even the most hesitant voters, when the decisive moment came, there was a real awakening. It looks like we still have the right kind of antibodies — those which protect old democracies like ours from bad viruses.
A clear "no" to Le Pen — but a "yes" to what?
But let's not rejoice too much. French voters may have said a clear “no” to Marine Le Pen, but what did they say “yes” to? True, the question is the same for all elected presidents, but this time it bears particular weight. Emmanuel Macron will obviously have to take this into account, and figure out the complex alchemy of being elected by a people who is in turn wise and rebellious.
Emmanuel Macron’s solid base of voters — the devoted followers, the trusty supporters of the first round — was joined by individuals from a whole range of political sensibilities. That includes a crowd of hesitant voters, resigned people and even, at the end of the spectrum, some for whom the hatred of one candidate was just a little stronger than the rejection of the other …
Macron voting on April 24
Legitimacy isn't everything
If Macron has accomplished the feat of being re-elected (a first in these conditions under the Fifth Republic) it is because he demonstrated his ability to rise up to the most formidable challenges, from the Yellow Vests protests to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Who else could have done it? By placing him in the lead in the first round, the French replied: no other candidate.
With this re-election on Sunday, French voters showed Macron that they trust him to face the crises to come. It is a great strength, as it establishes indisputable legitimacy. But the French president will need more than that to meet the challenges of this second term: education, the country’s massive debt, its industrial decline, the energy transition, Europe's strategic rearmament, etc. And to unite a fractured country, Macron would do well to find again what had first brought him to power in 2017, and that was conspicuously missing from this short campaign: audacity.