Convincing victory disguises challenges for France’s Macron

ROYE, France – There is no doubt that French President Emmanuel Macron won a convincing re-election over Marine Le Pen, his far-right challenger, on Sunday. Mr. Macron achieved a victory margin of 17 points and became the first French leader to be re-elected for another term in 20 years.

In the opinion of many, the electoral system functioned as intended, with almost 60 per cent of those voting in favor of defending themselves against a xenophobic and nationalist far-right that was widely regarded as a threat to French democracy.

That is, perhaps, unless you are a supporter of Mrs Le Pen, who was blocked in the last round for the second time in a row.

“I think we’re heading into five more years of crisis, probably worse, because people are just tired,” Sébastien Denneulin, 46, a Le Pen supporter, said Monday morning in Roye, a northern right-wing stronghold. .

Even as Mrs Le Pen has brought her party into the mainstream, and has anchored it firmly in the political establishment, her supporters say they are becoming frustrated by the lack of representation in the political system.

The far right enjoyed its strongest ever at the ballot box on Sunday as Mrs Le Pen expanded her appeal with wallet issues that were important in parts of the country like this northern region, where voters in the last two generations have moved to the far right. from the political left along with deindustrialization.

The challenge for Mr Macron now will be how to lure back to the political fold the 41.5 per cent of voters who cast ballots for Mrs Le Pen – and the around 28 per cent who chose not to vote at all. Despite the president’s clear victory, the election result hid countless challenges that could make his next five years in office even more tumultuous than the last.

As French news media organizations drew maps of the nationwide distribution of the vote, they showed an expansion and deeper breaches along the French equivalent of American blue and red states.

In the reddest areas of France, there was frustration that Mrs Le Pen had been defeated again, and a strong feeling that her supporters continued to be shut out of the political system.

In Roye, some people gathered at the QG brasserie expressed anger when they heard about the results on their smartphones Sunday night. A man set fire to his voter card.

Tony Rochon, 39, a roofer, said he had voted for a Le Pen – either Marine or her father, Jean-Marie – all his life. But each time, he said, other political parties had united to deny a Le Pen victory in the presidential election. Then the same thing had happened in parliamentary elections – also a two-round system – which effectively marginalized Mrs Le Pen’s influence in parliament.

In 2017, for example, while Mrs Le Pen won 34 percent of the vote in the presidential election, her party secured only eight seats in parliament – not even enough to form a parliamentary group.

That year, Mr Macron promised to introduce proportional representation in parliament, which experts say would better reflect the people’s political convictions. But he failed to fulfill his promise.

He and his wife, Adelaide Rochon, 33, a dental assistant who has also always voted for Ms. Le Pen’s party, said they believed the vote had been cheated.

“We do not know a single person around us who voted for Macron,” Mrs Rochon said. “It is impossible that he won.”

Not impossible, actually.

In Roye, a town of 6,000 people, two out of three voters supported Mrs Le Pen in the run-up. But nationwide Mr Macron withdrew many votes – 47 per cent according to a poll – not necessarily because people supported him, but because they joined the so-called Republican front against the far right, whose policies remain sinister for a majority of French people despite Ms . Le Pen’s persistent efforts to recreate and soften her image.

For others, like Madeleine Rosier, a member of the left-wing France Unbowed, a choice between Mr. Macron and what she considered an unacceptable right-wing candidate was no choice at all. She did not cast a vote on Sunday after voting for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the veteran left-winger who came in third in the first round.

“I did not want to give Emmanuel Macron legitimacy,” she said.

The dropout rate – the highest in a runoff since 1969 – reflected the widespread disillusionment with the political system that sent protesters from cities like Roye to the Champs-Élysées in Paris as part of the anti-government Yellow West movement in 2018, the biggest political crisis in Mr Macron’s first term.

That anger continues in many pockets of the country. In another measure of political disillusionment, more than three million people cast blank or invalid ballots – and that does not include the 13.7 million who chose not to vote at all.

Étienne Ollion, sociologist and professor at the Polytechnique School of Engineering, said the importance of such voters and those who reluctantly supported Mr Macron to keep Mrs Le Pen out of power, as well as the level of omission gives Mr Macron “a relatively limited legitimacy.”

The election results underscored a growing sense of “democratic fatigue and democratic rupture” in France, Mr Ollion said.

Given Mr Macron’s unfulfilled promise to reform Parliament, Chloé Morin, a political scientist at the Jean-Jaurès Foundation, a Paris-based think tank, said there was doubt about Mr Macron’s “capacity to take into account this extremely divided political landscape and opposition parties that will inevitably, in all logic, be little represented ”in parliament.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, an ally of Mr Macron and a former Green Member of the European Parliament, said in an interview that “an unfair French electoral system” had led to a government ignoring the political opposition and various social actors.

“Having a parliament where a person who gets 42 per cent of the vote only has about 20 legislators is unacceptable,” he said, referring to Mrs Le Pen.

Shortly after Mr Macron was re-elected on Sunday, there were immediate signs that dissatisfaction with French democracy would mark his second term.

Hundreds of protesters gathered in Paris and other major cities to oppose Mr Macron’s second term. The protests were marked by violent clashes with police, who fired tear gas in Paris to disperse the crowd.

Protesters in Paris converged from the city center to the great Place de la République, shouting a song from the Yellow Vest movement, “We are here, even though Macron does not want it, we are here!”

By midnight, police had cleared the Place de la République of protesters. But they had scribbled in red a warning on the large statue of Marianne, an emblem of the French Republic, in the middle of the square: “Beware of revenge when all the poor people rise.”

Norimitsu Onishi reported from Roye, and Constant Meheut from Paris.

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