Luck and fear contributed to Macron’s victory over the far right

Well, in the end, it seemed relatively easy.

An impressive 58.5%. Not quite the overwhelming two-thirds of the votes that Emmanuel Macron won five years ago. But almost all the other winners of the French presidency would have been very happy with his score.

“Is he lucky?

This was the question that Cardinal Mazarin always asked about future ministers. The cardinal served as the right-hand man – prime minister in all but name – to Louis XIV for almost two decades in the 1600s. Mazarin was apparently deeply superstitious and only wanted “lucky” lieutenants.

In the case of Macron, the answer must be “yes”.

The French president came to power five years ago promising to push through major changes. Instead, a major shift pushed him and his government forward.

There has been a leaderless uprising in small towns and countryside across France called ‘the yellow vests’, who have resisted an ‘environmental’ tax on diesel fuel which they say would drive poorer drivers into debt . (The tax was removed.) Then the devastation of COVID-19. Meanwhile, the eight-year French military expedition to several countries in sub-Saharan Africa, sent to wipe out ISIS groups, has largely failed. French forces retreat and the extremists hold even more territory.

But Macron could count on his luck.

The yellow vests ran out and wore the country out three years ago – although it took months, not weeks like in Canada with recent trucker protests.

After a stuttered initial response to COVID-19, Macron’s push to vaccinate the population won reluctant support from the majority of voters.

And the African debacle has been completely overshadowed by the war in Ukraine.

A split opposition

The French presidential elections take place in two rounds. The first round is wide open; the second, two weeks later, is a second round between the two candidates with the most votes in the first round.

Macron’s greatest chance lies in the slate of opponents against him for the presidency this time around. There were no less than 11 candidates in the first round, splitting the opposition vote.

French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen of the far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party waves to supporters after a speech at the Pavillon d’Armenonville in Paris on April 24. She finally obtained 41.5% of the votes. (Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images)

Even better luck: far-right leader Marine Le Pen found herself battling for votes with Eric Zemmour, a man with even more pronounced extremist views. On January 16, in the middle of the campaign, Zemmour was fined nearly $15,000 by a Paris court for incitement to racial hatred. He had said on television in 2020 that unaccompanied migrant children in France were “thieves”, “rapists” and “murderers”.

Zemmour called the court’s decision “ideological and stupid”. But he faded and Le Pen came second in the first round, nearly five percent behind Macron.

Le Pen was running for president for the third time, the second against Macron, the man she and many voters have denounced as arrogant.

The outgoing president did not so much defend his record as attack Le Pen’s program. Macron said she was anti-Europe, anti-immigrant and beholden to Russian President Vladimir Putin. During the April 20 candidates’ debate, Macron referred to a nine million euro (C$14 million) loan his party secured from a Kremlin-linked bank in 2014.

“When you talk to Russia,” Macron told him, “you don’t talk to its leaders, you talk to your banker.”

“A Relief Victory”

It was a killer line. Le Pen had praised Putin until his brutal invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.

Le Pen also managed to fumble his strongest argument, the steep rise in the cost of living. Macron pointed out that he had capped energy prices and was sending special cost-of-living checks to poorer voters while Le Pen proposed cutting value-added tax (VAT) across the board, which Macron said would benefit “people like you and me”. “, who didn’t need as much help.

And so he won. Macron is the first French president to be re-elected in 20 years, but commentators like Brice Teinturier of the Ipsos pollster called it “more of a relief victory. Hope seems quite absent from the outcome of this election”.

Even Macron sounded pensive in his victory speech. “I know a lot of people voted for me not to support my ideas, but to block the far right.”

These defaced campaign posters for Macron and Le Pen in southwestern France demonstrate the wider dissatisfaction with the choice of candidates in the second round of the 2022 presidential election. (Bob Edme/Associated Press)

His speech was short and sober. Election night under the Eiffel Tower ended at 10 p.m. European leaders rushed to show their relief and congratulate the president. Macron’s ministers told investigators that the Macron II government would be much more open and voter-friendly.

There is a whiff of worry in the air.

Macron and his custom-built party, La République En Marche (Republic on the March), now face parliamentary elections in June. The battle will be difficult.

Persistent Divisions

As Teinturier and other analysts point out, far-right candidates won almost a third of the votes in the first round. Add to that votes for far-left candidates and you have almost 58% of the electorate. Candidates from the traditional center-right Republicans and center-left Socialists won, together, less than 7%.

Already, far-left parties are holding coalition talks and first-round third-rounder Jean-Luc Mélenchon (who nearly overtook Le Pen in a last-minute push) sees himself as the leader of a majority and a prime minister in waiting.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the left-wing La France Insoumise (La France Insoumise) party, seen here in 2017, could become Prime Minister after the June legislative elections. (Reuters / Alain Jocard)

This has happened twice in recent history. The French call it “cohabitation”, and when the opposition has a legislative majority and forms a government, the president finds himself almost naked politically, stripped of most economic powers.

The good news for Macron is that Le Pen and Zemmour are still fighting on the far right and will not form a coalition. The bad news is that his own party is considered little more than men and women yes.

In other bad news, election analyst Jérome Fourquet said the election results showed the country’s deep geographic and economic divide. In the first round, Le Pen won less than 6% of the vote in the capital, Paris, while racking up big first-place scores in the poorer areas of the north and south.

“The presidential campaign was short-lived and lacked substance,” Fourquet said in an interview with Le Figaro newspaper. “He offered no safety valve or cathartic purge of the tension running through the country. The fear is that it will all leave parliament and spill out into the streets.”

Macron might wonder if his luck is about to run out.