Macron sets out to heal French divisions after re-election

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron was Monday (Apr 25) to launch efforts to unite a deeply divided nation after winning re-election in a battle against rival Marine Le Pen that saw the far right come its closest yet to taking power.

Centrist Macron won around 58.54 per cent of the vote in the second-round run-off compared with 41.46 for Le Pen, according to final results from the interior ministry.

Macron is the first French president in two decades to win a second term and his victory prompted a sigh of relief throughout Europe that the far right had again been thwarted from taking power in the key EU state.

But his latest victory over his far-right rival was narrower than their last face-off in 2017 when he won over 66 per cent of the vote, and Le Pen’s result was the best ever for the far right.

The president also begins planning for his new five-year term with a daunting in-tray ranging from preparing for parliamentary elections as soon as June to implementing explosive pension reform plans and dealing with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The historic gains for the far right dampened the French leader’s celebrations on Sunday night. Addressing supporters in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, he vowed to heal rifts in a deeply divided country.

EVERYBODY’S PRESIDENT

“From now on, I am not the candidate of one camp, but everybody’s president,” he said.

“Many of our fellow citizens voted for me, not because of the ideas I represent, but to block those of the extreme right,” Macron acknowledged.

Turnout was just 72 per cent, the lowest in any presidential election second-round run-off since 1969.

In a striking sign of public disenchantment with politics, 8.6 per cent of people who voted either delivered a blank ballot or spoilt their papers, the interior ministry figures showed.

The 44-year-old president now faces the challenge of parliamentary elections in June, where keeping a majority will be critical to ensuring he can realise his ambitions.

In a sign of trouble to come, two polls published late Sunday showed that most voters do not wish for him to also carry the parliamentary vote.

“Macron’s biggest challenge will be to create a sense of cohesion in an extremely fragmented country,” said Tara Varma, senior policy fellow and head of the Paris office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “Le Pen will do her best to capitalise on her result for the June parliamentary elections.”

Several hundred demonstrators from ultra-left groups took to the streets in some French cities late Sunday in protest at the election outcome. Police used tear gas to disperse gatherings in Paris and the western city of Rennes.

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