Pink Magnolias are a signature sight of Paris in the spring, and they were in full bloom as Emmanuel Macron became the first incumbent President to be re-elected in two decades.
Minutes after voting ended on 24 April, IPSOS, a premier polling agency, announced that Macron had defeated his opponent, Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Rally party, by 58 per cent to 42 per cent of the popular vote.
While the numbers are provisional, the bottom line is that Macron will be guiding the destiny of France for five more years. In a two-round election process, Macron held his lead over Le Pen decisively:
These results were a repeat of 2017, when both candidates surged to the top of the heap somewhat unexpectedly, to radically change French politics.
The biggest takeaway is that the traditional conservative, communist, and socialist parties have been almost fully sidelined by a clutch of new parties. Macron himself is a centrist, and his party, En Marche!, is just six years old.
The second big development is the relentless rise in Marine Le Pen’s far-right party, although she and her views have once again been left tantalisingly short of triumph. It has been a steady march for Le Pen, and her doggedness has paid off. Her party’s vote share has risen steadily from 18 per cent in 2012, to 34 per cent in 2017, and to 41 per cent in 2022.
Comparing the current results with those of 2017, we see that both the candidates improved their standings in the first round (the French presidential election system is conducted in two rounds; a first, in which all candidates of major parties participate, and a second, in which the top two candidates by vote share have a run off, in case no one manages a majority in the first round).
But in the second round, Macron’s vote share went down by almost 8 per cent.
The implication is that Marine Le Pen is no longer the fringe but very definitely part of an increasingly bipolar mainstream now. The loss evidently rankled, because she gave a needlessly churlish concession speech less than an hour after the first projections were released.
Stopping just short of contesting the results, Le Pen told her supporters that although they had lost, they had in fact won. To force the point, she also pushed a rural-urban divide by speaking about how the villages were with her while the cities weren’t.
She may be right in one sense, but that doesn’t bode too well for tranquillity in French politics, since Macron may expect more of Le Pen’s doughty, aggressive, abrasive politicking — especially in the run up to the French parliamentary elections slated to be held in June 2022.
The results also mean that Macron will have to be careful about the extent to which he toes the American line over Russia, because Le Pen was fairly vocal in her campaign, on the senselessness of alienating and antagonising the Kremlin, by compromising on Europe’s energy security and defence as the West has.
From a political standpoint, it appears as if the spectrum has narrowed markedly to between the centre and the right, with the traditional left getting the short end of the voters’ stick.
The French Socialist Party, which had been one full half of a stable, bi-polar political system for decades, and which had supplied multiple prime ministers and presidents, has been wiped out; and so too, the Conservatives. Both have been replaced with a multitude of options, most of whom, irrespective of ideology or gender, boil down to being variations of Kejriwals with class, or Thackerays with baritones.
This significant shift in voting patterns will probably let Macron and Le Pen stand out in a fairly motley crowd — by default. The only unknown at present is if Le Pen will stay on as head of her party, or make way for someone else. That’s difficult and doubtful since her party, the National Rally, is a bit of a family concern; Le Pen, herself, is a dynast who inherited a robust party structure from her father.
Nonetheless, the socialists and conservatives have an opportunity to claw back into the game come the June parliamentary elections. At the moment, Macron’s party has a majority with 308 of 577 seats, and Le Pen’s National Rally is yet to get into double figures.
Either way, it looks like radical Islamism has lost much of its political patronage, since many of those who parties pampered this tendency in France are now electoral history.
Finally, what does Macron’s re-election mean for India? It is too early to say if the results will neatly translate into more Rafale jets for the Indian Air Force, or greater French involvement in engines for India’s proposed fifth-generation fighter aircraft.
But it will be a sterling opportunity for Narendra Modi and Macron to resolutely make a wholesome relationship better, even as America under Joe Biden seeks to institute a radical rupture between Russia and the West.
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