Ideal Duellists Macron and Le Pen to compete in presidential runoff brandishing optimism against fear

The duel that Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen are about to fight over the next 15 days is unprecedented — because it is the first time that none of the two presidential candidates belongs to one of the two traditional political parties of French politics, and because none of the two candidates has ever been elected.

Marine Le Pen vs Emmanuel Macron. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

The April 23 poll followed the red thread of anti-system stances. "The challenge [in the runoff] will not be to have that people vote against someone,” said Macron about two hours after his victory, “but to undo a system that showed to be unable to address the problems of our nation over the last thirty years." Almost unknown a year ago when he launched his En Marche! movement, the phenomenon candidate who sprouted like a mushroom, some said, came in first with 23.75%. Le Pen, who came in second with 21.53%, represents the extreme right opposing everything governments did and represented in recent decades, among which the European Union.

The result expressed also a choice between the optimism in the message of fresh and youngest ever presidential candidate Macron, and Le Pen's fear Leitmotif, the issues of which — immigration, identity, terrorism, borders, globalization — did not become central in the campaign.

The neither left nor right" candidate let Le Pen talk first on Sunday night, and then introduced with mastery in his speech several concepts of Le Pen’s narrative: "I want to become the president of all French people, of patriots, in the face of the threat of nationalists."

In his speech, which sounded very much like that of a president elect, Macron insisted on themes that are dear to Le Pen: "We understood the doubts, the anger of the people of France, and we understood its desire for change causing people not to vote for the two traditional parties, which governed for the last thirty years."

Macron reaped Socialist votes massively — Benoît Hamon trailed in fifth with a disastrous 6.35%. He gathered also some votes of moderate conservatives within Les Républicains. Its leader, François Fillon, 19.91%, stumbled over his own scandals. Both early on Sunday evening asked their voters to support Macron in the second round, as did almost the whole political spectrum with the exception of Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Even if with 19.64% La France insoumise, Mélenchon’s new hard left, became a critical fourth party, its candidate and supporters were very disappointed. In his speech in the evening, Mélenchon was more Beppe Grillo-like than ever. He did not acknowledge the number until the definitive ones came in, and he was the only candidate to not ask his supporters to back Macron in the runoff. Since Macron's opponent is the extreme right party, the Front National, many observers criticized such a stance as being awkward. Mélenchon’s program manager, Charlotte Girard, appeared clutching at straws when she explained to some journalists that they would never vote for Le Pen's far right, but that they would nonetheless wait for the take of their 450,000 supporters who launched LFI’s campaign".

Macron, vice versa, appeared very presidential and conciliatory. His salute to all the other candidates was met with a strong applause from within the large hall of the Exhibition Park at Port Versailles. "Thank you for applauding, that says much about who you are," he said before thanking Hamon and Fillon for their support.

Le Pen and Macron are the ideal duelists because their themes are in perfect contrast, two opposite political views: build or leave Europe, keep borders open or cope with “the free circulation of terrorists”, globalization against protectionism, a state that provides to most needs against a “velvet” liberalism kind with the most vulnerable, and so on.

Post-Brexit Europe breathed a sigh of relief, like in Germany Sigmar Gabriel and Martin Schulz, who see Macron as a springboard to revive Europe. Even the euro strengthened at the opening of the markets in Tokyo and later in Europe. Trump, who leaned Le Pen until yesterday, did not speak — or tweet — yet, but this seems to not be a problem in the night that showed at last an opportunity to preserve European ideas and its role as a pole of stability in the world.

Macron's speech was also presidential when he insisted on the so-called "third round", that is, June's legislative elections, which could upset his electoral capital. To pursue his reforms, Macron needs that his current support does not switch back to a rediscovered PS or LR — "The strength of our group will be crucial to govern France" in favor of those who want to "innovate, undertake and work", and believe in a project to renew political life, ensure security, free jobs, relaunch the school system and “will allow everyone, wherever he-she come from, to advance in society by relaunching the building of Europe."

A headwind against these goals will be a mounting pressure on the two traditional parties because to resume their role. In addition, Macron will have to count on a four blocks Parliament, one of which is clearly a foe and far from being a minority.

Le Pen will be able to fish among the smaller “sovereigntists” parties, among republicans fearful of Macron’s leftist part of the program, such as immigration policy, and among the Insoumise (literally "those who do not submit") as well. Many are nationalists, have similar ideas about Europe and about the need for a strong role of the state in the economy and social issues, and finally some, like Le Pen, see Macron as a Socialist Party and financial élite man.

A frantic race to gather supporters for the runoff started on the very same election night looking out at June's legislative elections. The next will be 15 crucial days to have France stay the course, also within Europe, and the world, as to its values…


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