French President Emmanuel Macron has won his expected reelection despite a frightening month in which right-wing challenger Marine Le Pen came surprisingly close in the polls. Macron may be celebrating, but for most of France it is a bitter moment that offers little cause for optimism. Macron may be the first French president to win reelection in 20 years, but he is very conscious of the fact that this election does not give him a strong mandate for his second term.
Rare reelection for French president
Marine Le Pen described the defeat as a kind of victory, but she had to have been disappointed with the results after her late surge had appeared to put her within striking distance of the presidency.
Still, a candidate from the nationalist right in France has never had a better performance and the result this time was much closer than the outcome of the 2017 match-up between Macron and Le Pen.
Having secured a young and energized base and a greater share of the second round electorate than ever before, Le Pen can at least find some cause for optimism after this defeat.
For Macron, the challenge of the next five years will be entirely different. The president may have won a rare reelection, but he remains widely unpopular and distrusted following an election that saw exceptionally low turnout.
The French president holds more individual power than his American counterpart; this means that an incumbent is more able to accomplish his agenda, but also that he is more likely to personally be blamed for the country’s problems.
Many voters already believe that France’s immigration and inflation problems are Macron’s responsibility, and they have little confidence in his ability to fix these issues in his second term.
Difficult second term ahead for Macron
Everyone acknowledges that Macron won reelection because enough of the French population grudgingly decided that he would be the lesser of two evils.
Voters for far-left populist Jean-Luc Melanchon, who came in third place in the first round of voting, were the crucial voting bloc for both candidates in the runoff.
His supporters were divided; like the Communists and other far-left parties, they loathed Macron’s neoliberalism, but did they loathe Le Pen’s right-wing populism more?
Millions of French voters who were desperate for a change ultimately decided that Le Pen’s variety of change frightened them more than the prospect of another five sad years under the incumbent.
Other world leaders breathed a sigh of relief after the reelection, freed from the prospect of having to deal with a less cooperative French president.
They may be pleased, but for French voters the next five years will be spent under a leader who fails to inspire any confidence in most of the electorate.