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Faith Nyasuguta 

On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron cruised to a second term, beating back a stronger-than-expected challenge from a far-right populist who has attacked the European Union and NATO and expressed support for Russia.

“I am no longer the candidate of one side, but instead the president for all,” Macron told cheering supporters who gathered near the Eiffel Tower to celebrate his reelection and the defeat of challenger Marine Le Pen.

In what appeared as a rematch of the 2017 presidential election, Macron led Le Pen with over 58 per cent of the vote, according to projected results from the French news media, working with national pollsters.

Moments after the announced projection, Le Pen conceded. She noted that she had bettered her performance from five years ago and will now concentrate on legislative elections for her party.

“The game is not completely over,” she said.

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen addresses a press conference in Paris, April 13, 2022 /AP/

Five years ago, Macron beat Le Pen with more than 66% of the vote.

Macron, 44, who built his own political party to run for president in 2017, won again despite a first term beset by protests against his economic policies, the COVID-19 pandemic and, most recently, the Russian invasion of Ukraine that roiled diplomatic relations across the globe.

As revealed by Macron in his victory speech, he acknowledged that French voters had expressed “anger” and he must now “respond effectively.”

Macron’s victory also dealt a setback to the populist movements that have upended politics across the Western world, from Brexit to the successes of Viktor Orban in Hungary and Donald Trump in the United States.

“When one puts back together your project brick by brick, it’s a project that’s about getting out of the EU, even if it doesn’t explicitly say so,” Macron told Le Pen in their last debate.


Macron celebrates win with his supporters /AP/

On Sunday, American and European government officials greeted news of Macron’s reelection with relief.

According to some analysts in the United States, Macron won despite approval ratings of less than 40% – about the same as President Joe Biden, who is contemplating a reelection run of his own in 2024.

“An interesting observation, just FYI,” tweeted White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain. “President Macron appears to have secured a double-digit victory over LePen, at a time when his approval rating is 36%. Hmmm….”

The ex-US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, pointed out that another prominent European populist – Slovenia Prime Minister Janez Jansa – faced defeat on Sunday, according to vote projections.

The losses could be “a giant victory for the renewal of democratic values in Europe and a huge setback for populist nationalism,” McFaul said. “Maybe the global tide is turning?”

Others pointed out that Le Pen did better in this French election than the one five years ago, and the conservative populist movement still has to be taken seriously in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. Le Pen herself told supporters that “more than ever I will continue my work for the French.”

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.

She pledged sharp cuts to fuel tax, zero-percent sales tax on essential items from pasta to diapers, income exemptions for young workers and a “French first” stance on jobs and welfare.

Marine Le Pen /AP/

“I’m shocked to see that a majority of French people want to reelect a president that looked down on them for five years,” Adrien Caligiuri, a 27-year-old project manager said at the Le Pen rally.

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 harbored plans to pull France out of the European Union – something she denies.

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Faith Nyasuguta

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