On April 24, Emmanuel Macron got re-elected as a French President. He came out on top against his far-right challenger Marine Le Pen by scoring an estimated 58.8% of the vote.
His margin of victory was significantly narrower than the 66%-34% win he managed against the Le Pen five years ago, and her score was the highest ever recorded by her far-right party, National Front.
Given that the fear factor helped Macron win an election associated with populist concerns, it has delivered an exceptionally fragile mandate. Indeed, in his victory speech on April 25, re-elected Macron pledged not to be “the candidate of one camp, but the president of all of us,” showing a populist sentiment in his victory and direction to lead the country as a President. Populism in France is the road Macron is taking to bridge the divide.
As the voter pattern in the election shows, France is divided between economic and generational fault lines. A majority of blue-collar workers and, more than 4 in 10 voters overall-opted for Le Pen, while Macron’s core vote came from wealthy business people, middle-class professionals, and retired people. Younger, well-educated, but economically precarious voters supported the radical left candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
During a presidential campaign that became unexpectedly close, there were signs that his aspirations to reach out across the divide were recognized. An encouraging early statement of intent has already been signaled that there will be full consultation with unions and other bodies over proposals to raise the retirement age from 62 to 65.
Democracies worldwide are gaining a populist trend, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, and US’s Donald Trump. Populism in France is no exception. The message is that the party is being supplanted by personality and identity. As relative prosperity rises, voters have gained control of their lives. They are taking recourse in prejudice and emotional security.
In a Presidential election in 2017, Macron won as a radical outsider, smashing the two old parties scoring under 10%. He billed himself as a determined, bold reformer of the French archaic political economy.
Right-wing Marine Le Pen identified herself with the poor. She made reckless pledges of cheaper petrol, higher taxes on the rich, excluding immigrants from welfare, and defying the EU. She attacked Macron as an insider, the embodiment of the Parisian insensitivity towards provincial France, a classic elitist patrician.
2022 French presidential election is another election that promoted personality over policy, putting a premium on the crudities of politics, likability, naivety, and short-termism. In the words of Alexis de Tocqueville, it promotes mob over the club.