En Marche!–The French Presidential Election

Sunday evening, at approximately 8 PM CET, the people of France received confirmation of Emmanuel Macron’s triumph over Marine Le Pen in the nation’s 27th presidential election. The news comes at the tail end of a two-round electoral season that began late in April and concluded a fortnight later on May 7th. At its start, the race featured a selection of eleven candidates from as many as six political parties, with France’s old guard Socialist and Republican fronts rallying beneath the banners of Benoît Hamon and François Fillon, respectively. Several fringe groups, including the conservative National Front and the independent En Marche!, were represented as well. Although both establishment parties made weak showings in preliminary opinion polls -- Fillon secured 9 percent of the popular vote in February and 6 percent in April, while Hamon’s rates dropped from 25 to 19 percent in the same period -- it came as a shock to many when the first round of elections ended with neither the Republican nor the Socialist candidate obtaining a clear electoral majority. More shocking still, the candidate who did win the largest percentage of the popular vote, Emmanuel Macron, ran as a self-declared independent. Close to 24% of French voters cast their ballots in his name, putting him three points ahead of the second-place finisher, Marine Le Pen, just as much a party outsider. In keeping with the French system of “second ballot” voting, a runoff round for the two highest-favored candidates was scheduled for May 7th. This round, in which an independent and a right-wing outsider squared off for the presidency, marked a departure from previous years for its exclusion of France’s major parties. Some boldly claim that it symbolized the complete repudiation of establishment politics, while others perceive it only as the product of a people’s tendency to outgrow old orders. In any case, the first round of the presidential election rattled the French. A good portion of voters, for the first time, had only a dim idea of who their candidates were, and an even dimmer idea of the platforms they represented. Who are these outsiders? many asked. Who is Macron, Le Pen? A 39-year-old statesman and former Minister of the French Economy, Emmanuel Macron resigned from the Socialist administration of President François Hollande in the early months of 2016 to found En Marche!, a center-left organization focused on reforming France from the inside-out. In Macron’s own mind he is an independent, though many style him a political upstart due to both his age and the fact that he has never before held elected office. He campaigned in this year's election with the backing of En Marche!, and gained support from much of France for his outspoken defense of free trade and the European Union. His opponent in every sense of the word, Marine Le Pen has gained a reputation for her hardline, nationalist approach to democracy. Born into a well-established political dynasty -- her father founded National Front and several of her relations hold key positions within the party -- she was groomed from birth to hold office. Indeed, her political career has included several terms as a Regional Councillor, a seat in the European Parliament, and a stint as National Front’s president. She ardently opposes what she calls “rampant globalization”, and advocates France’s withdrawal from the European Union. On the morning of the second and final round of the election, voters swarmed to the polling-houses in droves. For several hours it remained unclear which candidate held the lead, but as the day progressed, and as votes continued to roll in, Macron pulled ahead. By noon the streets of Paris pulsed with the twirling flags of both Macron’s supporters and Le Pen’s hopefuls, all of whom had turned out in great numbers to show support for their candidate. Though Le Pen had spent much of her spare time since the first round speaking at rallies in and around Paris to drum up support for her presidential bid, she proved unable, over the course of the afternoon, to surpass Macron. France’s choice seemed apparent: the Independent would prevail. When the election came to an official close later that evening, returns showed that Le Pen had netted an approximate 33.9 percent of the nation’s vote, as compared to Macron’s 66.1. In a brief address given Sunday evening, Le Pen conceded her electoral loss with grace, wishing Macron “success in front of the massive challenges France faces.” The new President will take his seat on the 14th of May, one week after the runoff round.