PARIS, RAW – Emmanuel Macron has comfortably defeated his far-right rival Marine Le Pen, heading off a political earthquake for Europe but acknowledging dissatisfaction with his first term and saying he would seek to make amends
His supporters erupted with joy on Sunday as the results appeared on a giant screen at the Champ de Mars park by the Eiffel tower.
Leaders in Berlin, Brussels, London and beyond welcomed his defeat of the nationalist, euro-sceptic Le Pen.
Macron is the first French president in 20 years to win re-election, since incumbent Jacques Chirac trounced Le Pen’s father in 2002.
But even as exit polls showed a solid 58.5 per cent of the vote, Macron in his victory speech acknowledged many had only voted for him to keep Le Pen out and he promised to address the sense of many French that their living standards are slipping.
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“Many in this country voted for me not because they support my ideas but to keep out those of the far right. I want to thank them and know I owe them a debt in the years to come,” he said.
“No one in France will be left by the wayside,” he said in a message that had already been spread by senior ministers doing the rounds on French TV stations.
Two years of disruption from the pandemic and surging energy prices exacerbated by the Ukraine war catapulted economic issues to the fore of the campaign.
Le Pen, who at one stage had trailed Macron by just a few points in opinion polls, quickly admitted defeat. But she vowed to keep up the fight with parliamentary elections in June.
“I will never abandon the French,” she told supporters chanting “Marine! Marine!”
Macron can expect little or no grace period after an election in which radical parties scored well. Many expect the street protests that marred part of his first term to erupt again as he presses on with pro-business reforms.
How Macron now fares will depend on the parliamentary elections. Le Pen wants a nationalist alliance in a move that raises the prospect of her working with rival far-rightists such as Eric Zemmour and her niece, Marion Marechal.
Outside France, Macron’s victory was hailed as a reprieve for mainstream politics rocked in recent years by Britain’s exit from the European Union, the 2016 election of Donald Trump in the US, and the rise of a new generation of nationalist leaders.
European leaders praised Macron’s victory, since France has played a leading role in international efforts to punish Russia with sanctions and is supplying weapons to Ukraine.
“Democracy wins, Europe wins,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said.
“Together we will make France and Europe advance,” tweeted European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Italian Premier Mario Draghi hailed Macron’s victory as “splendid news for all of Europe”.
The disillusion with Macron was reflected in an abstention rate expected to settle about 28 per cent, the highest since 1969.
Initial polling showed the vote was sharply split both by age and socioeconomic status: two-thirds of working-class voters backed le Pen, while similar proportions of white-collar executives and pensioners backed Macron, an Elabe poll showed.
During the campaign, Le Pen homed in on the rising cost of living and Macron’s sometimes abrasive style as some of his weakest points.
Macron, meanwhile, pointed to Le Pen’s past admiration for Russia’s Vladimir Putin as showing she could not be trusted on the world stage, while insisting she still harboured plans to pull France out of the European Union – something she denies.