Pro-EU Emmanuel Macron defeats far-right rival Marine Le Pen, becomes France’s youngest president
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.”
French president-elect Emmanuel Macron holds hands with his wife, Brigitte, during a victory celebration Sunday outside the Louvre museum in Paris.