French President Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron Image Credit: AP

Emmanuel Macron became the first French president in 20 years to be returned to the Elysee Palace, defeating far-right candidate Marine Le Pen by 58.2 per cent to 41.8 per cent in the final round of voting on Sunday.

Macron, who was first elected in 2017 and defeated Le Pen then with a 66 to 34 percentage majority, was returned to office with a reduced margin of victory in an election that saw low voter turnout. With some 48 million French entitled to vote, Le Pen picked up some 12 million ballots, Macron received close to 19 million.

This is a result that shows that the ideas advocated by Le Pen to promote French nationalism, ban the hijab and make it far more difficult for non-native French to gain citizenship have indeed taken root — but the ideas of a liberal French democracy based on the values of equality, fraternity and liberty for all remain more popular.

While the Le Pen’s share of the vote has grown over the past five years, analysts will now try and decipher her level of support to determine just how much of it was a vote against Macon rather than ballots cast in favour of Le Pen’s National Rally party that has rebranded from its Front National past. Indeed, it’s also worth noting that when Le Pen’s father ran in the second round against Jacques Chirac, the far right stood at just 18 per cent support.

Running as the incumbent, Macron always faced the challenge of having to defend his record — leading France through the coronavirus pandemic at a time where there simply was no precedent on how to manage, and on his handling of the crisis currently folding in Ukraine.

When it comes to Ukraine, the prospect of a Le Pen victory — she has long been an admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin — was anathema to a majority of French voters. As the second-largest economy in Europe, the only nuclear-armed European nation in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European nation with the largest armed forces, how French voters viewed Ukraine and Macron’s push to find a negotiated end to the conflict was always going to be critical.

In European capitals and Washington, the return of Macron is being greeted with a sigh of relief. He faces a general election in June where he must try and secure a parliamentary majority for his agenda. If there’s one thing in his favour now, it is that French voters usually throw their general election support to a winning president.