The pro-EU centrist Emmanuel Macron has won the French presidency in a decisive victory over the far-right Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, and vowed to unite a divided and fractured France.
Macron, 39, a former economy minister who ran as a “neither left nor right” independent promising to shake up the French political system, took 66% to Le Pen’s 34%.
His victory was hailed by his supporters as holding back a tide of populism after the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s victory in the US election.
Addressing thousands of supporters in the grand courtyard of the Louvre, the vast Paris palace-turned-museum, Macron said he would defend France and Europe. He said Europe and the world are “watching us” and “waiting for us to defend the spirit of the Enlightenment, threatened in so many places”.
He promised to unite a divided and fractured France, saying: “I will do everything to make sure you never have reason again to vote for extremes.”
Speaking of his meteoric rise and victory that was not forecast even a year ago, he said: “Everyone said it was impossible. But they didn’t know France!”
Despite the wide margin of the final result, Le Pen’s score nonetheless marked a historic high for the French far right. Even after a lacklustre campaign that ended with a calamitous performance in the final TV debate, she was projected to have taken almost 11m votes, double that of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, when he reached the presidential run-off in 2002. The anti-immigration, anti-EU Front National’s supporters asserted that the party had a central place as an opposition force in France.
Turnout was the lowest in more than 40 years. Almost one-third of voters chose neither Macron nor Le Pen, with 12 million abstaining and 4.2 million spoiling ballot papers.
Macron, who has never held elected office and was unknown until three years ago, is France’s youngest president. Next Sunday, he will take over a country under a state of emergency, still facing a major terrorism threat and struggling with a stagnant economy after decades of mass unemployment. France is divided after an election campaign in which anti-establishment anger saw the traditional left and right ruling parties ejected from the race in the first round for the first time since the period after the second world war.
François Bayrou, an ex-minister and Macron’s centrist ally, said: “He is the youngest head of state on the planet [which] sends an incredible message of hope. Macron is giving hope to people who had no hope. Hope that maybe we can do something, go beyond the [left-right] divide that no longer makes sense.”
Le Pen swiftly conceded defeat. She said she had won a “historic and massive” score that made her leader of “the biggest opposition force” in France and vowed to radically overhaul her Front National party. Her promise to “transform” the far-right movement left open the possibility that the party could be expanded and renamed in an attempt to boost its electoral chances. It was a major step in the political normalisation of her movement.
The outgoing Socialist president, François Hollande, who was once Macron’s mentor and had appointed him economy minister, said: “His large victory confirms that a very great majority of our citizens wanted to unite around the values of the Republic and show their attachment to the European Union and show France is open to the world.”
Macron’s victory came not only because voters supported his policy platform for free market, pro-business reform, and his promises to energise the EU, coupled with a leftwing approach to social issues. Some of his voters came from other parties across the political spectrum and turned out not in complete support of his programme but to stop the Front National.