• The San Juan Daily Star

Macron scores a comfortable win, but domestic concerns loom

Voters cast their ballots in the second round of the presidential election in Paris on Sunday, April 24, 2022.

By Aurelien Breeden

France and the world took stock Monday of President Emmanuel Macron’s reelection, a triumph for his centrist, pro-European policies and a relief for Western allies, even though the result was clouded by a best-ever showing for the far right.

Macron became the first French president since 2002 to win a second term, with 58.5% of the runoff vote, against 41.5% for the right-wing challenger, Marine Le Pen, according to final results from the Interior Ministry. It was a greater margin of victory than predicted by polls after the first round of voting two weeks ago.

Congratulating Macron on Twitter, President Joe Biden called France “our oldest ally and a key partner in addressing global challenges.”

“I look forward to our continued close cooperation — including on supporting Ukraine, defending democracy, and countering climate change,” Biden wrote.

But Macron’s victory was also narrower than in 2017, when he first faced off against the anti-NATO, pro-Russia Le Pen. Fewer voters backed Macron this time around, as the highest abstention rate for a runoff presidential election in half a century — 28% — pointed to rising political disillusionment and economic grievance.

Clément Beaune, Macron’s junior minister for European Affairs, acknowledged on CNN that France was “divided” and “worried,” especially about pocketbook issues such as the cost of living and energy prices.

“Now we have to work on this,” Beaune said Monday.

“Big victory, big challenges,” was Monday’s headline in Le Figaro, a right-leaning daily. The left-leaning Libération noted the widespread frustration with Macron and hailed the “political maturity of the French people who, sometimes while holding their noses, mobilized to refuse the chimeras of far-right populism.”

In the city of Rennes and in Paris, small demonstrations against Macron’s reelection briefly turned violent Sunday night as protesters clashed with riot police officers, leading to a few arrests.

France’s political forces now turn their attention to the elections for the lower house of Parliament in June, a crucial test for Macron, whose coalition holds a strong legislative majority. Results then will determine how far he can go in pursuing his domestic agenda.

“Macron’s biggest challenge will be to create a sense of cohesion in an extremely fragmented country where the far right gets 41% of the vote,” said Tara Varma, head of the Paris office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “The political reconfiguration that started five years ago will now be completed as new alliances are bound to emerge.”

Macron’s first priority will most likely be to push through a new relief package for French consumers, including measures to increase pensions and some welfare benefits, extend energy subsidies and beef up a policy that allows companies to grant workers tax-free bonuses. In the fall, Macron is expected to tackle one of his most contentious plans: increasing the legal retirement age.

Le Pen will seek to remain in Parliament, where she has occupied a seat since 2017, Louis Aliot, a top official in her National Rally party, told the radio station France Inter on Monday. Her party got only a handful of lawmakers elected that year and hopes to build on her presidential showing.

“Now it is another election that is starting, and more important, it is 577 elections that are starting,” Aliot said, referring to the number of seats that will be up for grabs.

Even some of Macron’s supporters were doubtful that he would obtain the same sweeping majority as he did in 2017, when many political newcomers rode the wave of enthusiasm he generated into office.

At Macron’s victory celebration Sunday on the Champs de Mars in Paris, where people danced and waved French flags in the shadow of an Eiffel Tower sparkling with lights, the mood was relief more than jubilation.

Dustin Bourgeois, 23, an air traffic controller, said Macron was the “most reasonable, most stable” leader for the country. But he added, “There are two camps today in France: the extremes and the center, not to mention those who abstained.”

Of the legislative elections, he said: “I think it’s going to be different, and that worries me. It’s going to be hard.”

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