Pro-EU Em­manuel Macron de­feats far-right ri­val Marine Le Pen, be­comes France’s youngest pres­i­dent

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - JOHN LE­ICES­TER AND SYLVIE COR­BET

Rip­ping up France’s political map, French vot­ers elected in­de­pen­dent cen­trist Em­manuel Macron as the coun­try’s youngest pres­i­dent Sun­day, de­liv­er­ing a re­sound­ing vic­tory to the un­abashedly pro-Euro­pean for­mer in­vest­ment banker and strength­en­ing France’s place as a cen­tral pil­lar of the Euro­pean Union.

At a vic­tory party out­side the Lou­vre Mu­seum in Paris, Macron sup­port­ers roared with de­light at the news, wav­ing red, white and blue tri­colour flags. The ju­bi­lant crowd swelled to thou­sands as the night wore on.

“A new page in our long his­tory is open­ing tonight. I want it to be one of hope and re­newed con­fi­dence,” Macron said.

Marine Le Pen, his far-right op­po­nent in the pres­i­den­tial run-off, quickly called the 39-year-old Macron to con­cede de­feat af­ter vot­ers re­jected her “French-first” na­tion­al­ism by a large mar­gin. Macron, in a solemn tele­vised vic­tory speech, vowed to heal the so­cial di­vi­sions ex­posed by France’s ac­ri­mo­nious elec­tion cam­paign and bring “hope and re­newed con­fi­dence” to his coun­try.

“I know the di­vi­sions in our na­tion that led some to ex­treme votes. I re­spect them,” he de­clared, un­smil­ing. “I know the anger, the anx­i­ety, the doubts that a large num­ber of you also ex­pressed. It is my re­spon­si­bil­ity to hear them.”

The re­sult wasn’t even close: With four­fifths of votes counted, Macron had 64 per cent sup­port to Le Pen’s 36 per cent.

Le Pen’s per­for­mance dashed her hopes that the pop­ulist wave that swept Don­ald Trump into the White House and led Bri­tain to vote to leave the EU would also carry her to France’s pres­i­den­tial Élysée Palace.

Macron’s vic­tory marked the third time in six months — fol­low­ing elec­tions in Aus­tria and the Nether­lands — that Euro­pean vot­ers shot down far-right pop­ulists who wanted to re­store bor­ders across Europe.

Parisians lined streets out­side his cam­paign head­quar­ters as Macron left in a mo­tor­cade to join the party at the Lou­vre. There, the Euro­pean an­them “Ode to Joy” played as Macron strode out to ad­dress his sup­port­ers.

Say­ing Le Pen vot­ers backed her be­cause they were an­gry, he vowed: “I will do ev­ery­thing in the five years to come so there is no more rea­son to vote for the ex­tremes.”

Many French vot­ers had backed him reluc­tantly, sim­ply to keep out Le Pen and her Na­tional Front party, which has a long anti-Semitic and racist his­tory.

Af­ter the most closely watched and un­pre­dictable French pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in re­cent mem­ory, many vot­ers re­jected the runoff choices al­to­gether. Poll­sters pro­jected that French vot­ers cast blank or spoiled bal­lots in record num­bers Sun­day.

Un­known to vot­ers be­fore his tur­bu­lent 2014-16 ten­ure as France’s pro-busi­ness econ­omy min­is­ter, Macron took a gi­ant gam­ble by quit­ting So­cial­ist pres­i­dent François Hol­lande’s govern­ment to run as an in­de­pen­dent in his first cam­paign.

De­spite her loss, Le Pen’s ad­vance­ment to the run-off for the first time marked a break­through for the 48-year-old and un­der­scored a grow­ing ac­cep­tance of her fierce anti-im­mi­gra­tion, France-first na­tion­al­ism. She had placed third in the 2012 pres­i­den­tial vote.

Le Pen im­me­di­ately turned her fo­cus to France’s up­com­ing leg­isla­tive elec­tion in June, where Macron will need a work­ing ma­jor­ity to gov­ern ef­fec­tively. Le Pen said her “his­toric and mas­sive” score turned her party into “the lead­ing op­po­si­tion force against the new pres­i­dent’s plans.”

THIBAULT CAMUS, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

French pres­i­dent-elect Em­manuel Macron holds hands with his wife, Brigitte, dur­ing a vic­tory cel­e­bra­tion Sun­day out­side the Lou­vre mu­seum in Paris.

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