By Amédée Hirt
This Sunday 24 April, the outgoing French president, Emmanuel Macron, was re-elected for a new 5-year term. He won with 58.54% of the votes cast against 41.46% for his far-right rival, the Rassemblement National candidate Marine Le Pen.
Even though the duel was the same as in 2017, the context was different and the results, although unquestionable, are closer.
The apparent clarity of the result, however, hides several fractures that characterise the French population. First of all, the abstention rate was 28.01%, the highest rate for a second-round since 1969. If we add the blank and invalid votes, the votes cast represent only 65.8% of French citizens. Emmanuel Macron was thus chosen by only 38.52% of those registered, meaning that 61% of those with voting rights did not support him. Emmanuel Macron is therefore the least supported elected president since Georges Pompidou in 1969, following the student revolutions of May 1968.
This election was seen by many voters as the choice of the lesser of two evils. Emmanuel Macron owes his election in large part to the profile of his opponent. Attempts at de-demonisation and the presence of the more extreme candidacy of Eric Zemmour in the first round were not enough to make people forget the extreme right-wing positioning of Marine Le Pen. Thus, the vote can be read as a rejection of the Rassemblement National candidate rather than as a support for Emmanuel Macron. The latter obtained a large number of votes from the left for whom it was completely out of the question to vote for Marine Le Pen. The candidate of La France insoumise, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, 3rd in the first round, 2% behind Marine Le Pen, and self-proclaimed leader of a divided left, called on his voters “not to give a single vote to Ms. Le Pen”. However, he did not call for a vote for Macron. Within the left-wing electorate, Emmanuel Macron’s biggest opponent was not Marine Le Pen, but abstention. Thus, while 42% of voters who voted for Mélenchon in the 1st round supported President Macron, 41% abstained and the rest voted for Le Pen. It should be noted that Emmanuel Macron acknowledges that he owes his victory to an anti-far-right vote.
If we now look at Marine Le Pen’s score, it is simply the best result of a far-right candidate in a French presidential election. Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, had only made 17.79% in the 2nd round in 2002 against Jacques Chirac. In 2017, Marine Le Pen obtained 33.9% of the vote. Her 41.46% of the votes cast represent 27.28% of support from French citizens. Her anti-immigration, euro-sceptic, nationalist and populist stance therefore appealed to a large part of the electorate who do not identify with the Europhile, international and elitist policies of the outgoing president. However, Marine Le Pen had difficulty convincing with an unrealistic economic programme.
What challenges for this new five-year period?
During these next five years, Emmanuel Macron must not forget that he is also the president of the 61% of voters who did not vote for him. The challenges are multiple and the record of his previous five years does not speak in his favour on several points.
On the economic level, Emmanuel Macron is expected to take a hard look at the issue of the purchasing power of the French. Already at the origin of the Yellow vests crisis, this issue was one of Marine Le Pen’s hobbyhorses during the debate between the two rounds on Wednesday 20 April. President Macron can, however, capitalise on the fall in unemployment to historically low levels. These figures, however, hide a precariousness of work, with a rising “uberisation”. Pension reform is the second issue facing the president. Pushing for an increase in the retirement age, he faces strong resistance from the population. Adding to that the reforms in the education and health systems, there are numerous issues on which the left electorate awaits a reaction from Emmanuel Macron.
At the international level, the victory of the candidate of the République en Marche was welcomed by the partners of multilateralism, particularly in Europe. It must be said that President Macron has been very (too?) active on the international scene. A fervent defender of multilateralism and of the European project, he will hold the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2022. In the face of Marine Le Pen’s open Euroscepticism, France’s main international partners are satisfied with Emmanuel Macron’s re-election. In the immediate future, the French position in the war in Ukraine is the priority. President Macron will have to continue his pro-Ukrainian line while avoiding becoming a co-belligerent as well as completely cutting ties with Vladimir Putin, whom he spoke to on the phone on 29 March.
Finally – and this is perhaps where expectations are the highest – Emmanuel Macron must take up the climate challenge. His first term in office was a disappointment from that point of view. In a speech in Marseille on 16 April, he promised an ecological second mandate in which his prime minister will have the task of leading an effective climate policy.
The choice of a prime minister and the entire cabinet is the next step for the re-elected president. This choice will be heavily influenced by the results of the parliamentary elections scheduled for June 2022. All 577 seats in the National Assembly will then be up for election. Historically, the electoral system of the Fifth Republic has tended to produce clear majorities, the so-called “majority fact”. Periods of cohabitation (a parliament in majority opposed to the government) have existed, but are rare. The French Constitution gives the President the power to dissolve the National Assembly and call for new elections, in the hope of obtaining a favourable majority. In practice, the parliamentary majority is thus very often on the side of the government. Jean-Luc Mélenchon hopes to impose a cohabitation on Emmanuel Macron by calling on his supporters to “elect him prime minister”, although the choice of a prime minister is a presidential prerogative. The two-round first-past-the-post system is likely to make it difficult for the leader of La France insoumise, who had only 17 seats in the previous legislature. On the far right, Eric Zemmour called on the Rassemblement National to unite with his party Reconquête! in a “national bloc”, a proposal coldly welcomed by the RN.
The challenges are numerous for Emmanuel Macron who will have a lot to do to keep his promise “to no longer be the candidate of one camp, but the president of all”. To do this, he will have to succeed in shedding his image as the president of the cities and the rich, elitist and Jupiterian.
French version here (with audio version !)
 https://www.interieur.gouv.fr/Elections/Les-resultats/Presidentielles/elecresult__presidentielle_2002/(path)/presidentielle_2002/index.html et https://www.interieur.gouv.fr/Elections/Les-resultats/Presidentielles/elecresult__presidentielle-2017/(path)/presidentielle-2017/FE.html
 Perraudeau Éric, « Le système des partis sous la Ve République », Pouvoirs, vol. 99, no 4, 2001, p. 101, DOI: 10.3917/pouv.099.0101.