French President Macron won a second term, beating far-right leader Marine Le Pen with 58% of the vote. His majority is solid, but still 10 points below his total in 2017.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
French President Emmanuel Macron won a second term. He beat far-right leader Marine Le Pen with 58.5% of the vote. His majority is solid, but it remains nearly 10 points below Macron’s margin of victory when he faced the same candidate in 2017. This time around, many French voters are feeling less euphoric than relieved.
NPR’s Eleanor Beardsley reports.
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Three, two, one.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Thousands of Macron supporters gathered under the Eiffel Tower and counted as the election results were announced at 8 p.m. Sunday evening on the evening news. As the face of the winner appeared on the giant screens, the crowd exploded.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (French speaking).
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (French speaking).
BEARDSLEY: Along with the joy came an intense sense of relief for many at having barely averted disaster. Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party has never won so many votes. She was a better candidate this time around — more moderate, connecting with voters on core economic issues and facing a president many find arrogant and distant.
Macron supporter Aymerick Andriamihaja says everyone knows it’s different this time around.
AYMERICK ANDRIAMIHAJA: France is really divided. After the yellow vests, the yellow vest, after the COVID crisis, I think we melted a lot of things, from the anti-vax movement, the demonstrations during the yellow vest. And I think all the people here around us, we understand that.
BEARDSLEY: In polling stations across the country on Sunday, many voters turned out not so much for Macron as against Le Pen, in keeping with a long tradition of erecting a roadblock to block the far right.
Karine Harris voted in a primary school in the 15th arrondissement of Paris.
KARINE HARRIS: We have no choice. As the French say, it’s between the plague and cholera.
BEARDSLEY: She’s talking about choosing between plague and cholera – in other words, an impossible choice.
HARRIS: I don’t have to choose the worst. So I chose Emmanuel Macron.
BEARDSLEY: Okay. So you’re really voting against her?
HARRIS: Yes, exactly.
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PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: (Speaking French).
BEARDSLEY: Macron acknowledged those voters and promised to govern differently this time around.
Vincent Martigny teaches political science at the University of Nice. He says Macron’s legitimacy isn’t quite the same as in 2017.
VINCENT MARTIGNY: His mandate is much weaker, so we will have to make compromises. And the problem with Mr. Macron – it’s not a very good compromise. It’s someone who says, I listen, and in the end I decide.
BEARDSLEY: Le Pen conceded shortly after the results were announced. But she looked triumphant, not deflated.
(SOUND EXCERPT FROM AN ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MARINE LE PEN: (Speaking French).
BEARDSLEY: With more than 41% of the vote, she called the results a resounding victory, insisting her party is more determined than ever. Le Pen’s strong results mean the battle is on for crucial parliamentary elections in June, often referred to as the third round of the presidential election. If a French president wants to implement his program, he must obtain a majority in parliament. Macron’s victory was hailed across Europe. You could almost hear a collective sigh of relief. A victory for Le Pen, an admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, would have been a terrible blow for the bloc at a crucial time.
(SOUND EXCERPT FROM “THE ODE TO JOY” BY LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN)
BEARDSLEY: Macron took the stage at the Eiffel Tower with his wife, Brigitte, and a group of French schoolchildren to the accompaniment of Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’, the anthem of the European Union. Bravo, Emmanuel, wrote the President of the European Council Charles Michel on Twitter. In this turbulent period, he said, we need a strong Europe and a committed France. Macron also received a congratulatory tweet from Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who called him a true friend of Ukraine.
BEARDSLEY: Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.
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