New political era in France


PARIS: Pro-Europe maverick Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen on Monday threw themselves into campaigning for France’s presidential run-off, with Le Pen styling herself the true candidate of change in a race stacked in Macron’s favour.
Macron is the clear favourite to become France’s youngest-ever president after topping Sunday’s ballot with 23.75 per cent of votes, ahead of National Front (FN) leader Le Pen on 21.53 per cent.
The result revealed a country deeply divided, with Macron, an advocate of open borders and free trade, leading the vote in cities and Le Pen topping the polls in rural areas that feel left behind by globalisation.
Le Pen seized on a flurry of endorsements for 39-year-old Macron from the mainstream parties routed in the first round as proof he was the choice of the discredited old guard.
On Sunday, the failed conservative and Socialist candidates Francois Fillon and Benoit Hamon joined a chorus of calls for voters to back Macron in order to bar a win by the anti-immigration, anti-EU Le Pen.
Visiting a market in the northern town of Rouvroy on Monday, 48-year-old Le Pen lashed out at the “rotten old republican front” — the anti-FN coalition formed by mainstream parties whenever the party comes close to power.
“I’ve come here to start the second round campaign in the only way I know, on the ground with the French people,” she said.
France’s traditional political class suffered a stunning blow in the election, with voters fleeing the Socialists and conservative Republicans who have governed for the past half century in favour of the extremes or outsiders.
Both Macron and Le Pen campaigned as rebels who transcended the left-right divide.
Addressing thousands of flag-waving supporters in Paris on Sunday evening, Macron said he aimed to unite “patriots” against “the threat of nationalists”.
Le Pen, who has been hoping to emulate Donald Trump’s victory in the US, said the French faced a choice between “runaway globalisation” and a protectionist France.
Her plans to restore France’s borders with its European neighbours, pull out of the euro zone and hold a referendum on leaving the EU had sown fear of another devastating blow to the bloc after Britain’s vote to leave.
Eurosceptics made strong gains on Sunday, with Le Pen, fourth-placed left-winger Jean-Luc Melenchon and nationalist Nicolas Dupont-Aignan taking around 46 per cent in total.
But the euro rose on Monday, backed by polls suggesting Macron would easily beat Le Pen in the run-off.
“Most likely, the French election can mark a turning point for France and Europe,” said analyst Holger Schmieding from Berenberg Bank.
After addressing euphoric supporters in Paris on Sunday — joined on stage by his wife Brigitte, who is 25 years his senior — Macron spent the evening at the capital’s famed La Rotonde bistro, drawing criticism for what some saw as his triumphalist attitude.
“We need to be humble. The election hasn’t been won and we need to bring people together to win,” Richard Ferrand, Secretary-General of Macron’s En Marche (On the Move) movement, acknowledged on BFM television on Monday.
Despite serving as economy minister in the outgoing Socialist government of Francois Hollande, Macron casts himself as an newcomer and his year-old party as revolutionary.
“The challenge is to break completely with the system which has been unable to find solutions to the problems of our country for more than 30 years,” he said. — AFP