The 2017 French general elections saw the defeat of the two major parties of France and the emergence of two new personalities.
On the one hand was the pro-European, centrist, former investment banker who had never held elected office before — Emmanuel Macron. His contender was the far right, anti-establishment, anti-globalization, and anti-EU candidate Marine Le Pen.
Post-Brexit and in the midst of the growing anti-globalization wave that had started to spread across Europe, the election was being viewed as a decider for the future of the European Union.
On May 7, French citizens went to the polls to cast their votes in the second round of the presidential election, overwhelmingly electing Macron to lead the country. He was sworn into office on May 14.
One of the primary reasons for the emergence of non-establishment candidates Macron and Le Pen was the significant anti-incumbency factor, wherein incumbent President François Hollande had a mere 4% approval rating, and the presidential candidate of his Socialist party received only 6.35% of the vote. The last time the left party witnessed such a poor performance was in 1969.
With the decline of the left, the centre-right wing parties were the favourites to win, evidenced by the initial popularity of François Fillon, a former prime minister. This was before “Penelopegate” — allegations that his wife and children were paid with public money for non-legitimate parliamentary work.
The political vacuum left by the established parties on the left/centre was captured by Macron, and the right gravitated towards Le Pen. In the first round, Macron just had a 2.7% lead over Le Pen. Interestingly, in the head-to-head contest of the second round, Macron received 66.1% of the vote and Le Pen 33.9%.
Part of the reason for his win was luck — the initial front-runner was brought down by a scandal and the lack of support for the Socialist front-runner. Macron’s political acumen also did wonders for him. He didn’t seek a ticket from the Socialists, instead he chose to replicate the emerging European movements like Spain’s Podemos and Italy’s Five-Star Movement.
Additionally, Macron’s strategy was primarily grassroots campaigning, like Obama’s 2008 campaign. He held massive rallies like the ‘Grande Marche’ and reportedly carried out 25,000 in-depth interviews of potential voters across the country, apart from knocking on 300,000 doors.
Lastly, the French voters seem to have gravitated towards Macron’s positive messaging over Le Pen’s anti-immigration, anti-EU attitude. Le Pen was also bogged down by her having to shed the baggage from the previous avatar of the National Front under her father. She failed to re-construct the party’s image to the required extent.
As for global implications of Macron’s win, Brexit comes to the fore. He has ruled out a “hard” Brexit and advocated for strengthening the EU. It can also be argued that his victory has made Theresa May’s stance weaker in the upcoming Brexit negotiations, due to the resurgence of a pro-EU Franco-German nexus acting as a counterweight.
With files from BBC News, CNBC, The Economist, and The New York Times.