Polls predicted Emmanuel Macron would emerge triumphant in the French presidential runoff, but the polls underestimated his wide margin of victory. The En Marche! candidate defeated nationalist Marine Le Pen by 66 to 34 percent and is on his way to the Elysée Palace.
Le Pen’s loss is not just a defeat for the National Front, but for right-wing French populism as a whole. The Sunday results also mark the third consecutive loss for nationalists parties in Europe – with some suggesting the populists momentum that brought forward Brexit and President Trump may be slowing to a halt.
The opposing themes of the Macron and Le Pen camps could not have been more stark. French voters had a clear choice between a globalist or nationalist direction. Macron, a former investment banker, campaigned unabashedly in support of the European Union and of the euro currency. He mostly refused to take a tough tone on Muslim immigration into the country, or the extremist elements that come with it.
Le Pen crusaded audaciously on a “France First” theme – even referencing Trump’s ascension to the White House numerous times. She called for a full return to the Franc currency and a referendum on France’s membership in the EU. Perhaps the most notable position of Le Pen: a tough line against Islamic extremism and immigration. Their nation has been plagued with a series of terror-related attacks, making her rise in popularity unsurprising to many.
Despite record low turnout, French voters made their choice loud and clear.
While losing handily, Le Pen can find solace in the fact that her party performed better than ever before in its history. Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, made it to the second round of the 2002 French presidential election, but lost to Jacques Chirac 82 to 18 percent – the widest margin of defeat in any French presidential election.
In her concession speech, Le Pen promised the National Front would be the “main opposition” to Macron’s upcoming administration. Her party will execute a postmortem to fully understand why her candidacy failed and what they can do to perform better in the future. Le Pen even alluded to a name change for the National Front.
What happens now?
The political season isn’t over for the European country. French voters will head to the polls yet again for Parliamentary elections in June, and Macron could easily become just a figurehead if he doesn’t have the necessary support from the National Assembly.
One major problem for the newly elected president: his party is barely a year old. En Marche! carries with it no institutional foundation. Unlike the wave of support he received from mainstream political parties during the second round of presidential voting, a lot of these same parties will be fielding their own MP candidates and will be directly campaigning against him.
Macron needs 298 deputies to have control of the lower house of parliament. Will this majority arise directly form En Marche! members, a coalition of Républicains and Socialists or a little bit of both?
Macron really doesn’t know yet.
He still appears unsure if he wants his nascent En Marche! party to become an actual “Party.” On the campaign trail, he has called for En Marche! candidates to be political newcomers, diverse and made up of 50 percent women.
If polls hold steady, the center-right is expected to do very well in June. The Républicains are expected to gain seats along with new En Marche! candidates. The Socialist Party is expected to collapse, and Le Pen’s National Front could win up to 25 seats.
The makeup of the National Assembly will prove pivotal in how the newly-elected leader will run the country.
Emmanuel Macron may have the presidential election in his rear view mirror, but rough roads still lay ahead.