Macron makes French history
Pro-European centrist Emmanuel Macron promised yesterday to heal France's divisions after crushing far-right leader Marine Le Pen in a pivotal presidential election that has given him a large but fragile mandate for change.
At 39, the pro-EU former investment banker will become France's youngest-ever leader but will face a huge challenge to enact his programme while trying to unite a fractured and demoralised country.
"I will fight with all my strength against the divisions that are undermining us," Macron said in a solemn address at his campaign headquarters, adding that he had seen the "anger, anxiety and doubts" of many voters.
The vicious election campaign exposed deep economic and social divisions in France, as well as tensions provoked by identity and immigration.
Initial estimates showed Macron winning between 65 percent and 66.1 percent of the ballots in the first ever election he has contested, far ahead of Le Pen on 33.9 percent and 35 percent.
Vast crowds of jubilant Macron supporters celebrated outside the Louvre Museum in Paris, waving French flags.
"He's a symbol of hope," said Jean-Luc Songtia, 36. "It's like Obama eight years ago. It's youth, it's hope."
Unknown three years ago, Macron is now poised to become one of Europe's most powerful leaders, bringing with him a hugely ambitious agenda of political and economic reform for France and the European Union.
The result will resonate worldwide and particularly in Brussels and Berlin where leaders will breathe a sigh of relief that Le Pen's anti-EU, anti-globalisation programme has been defeated.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman said it was a "victory for a strong and united Europe", while EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said French voters had chosen a "European future."
The euro rose against the dollar in Asian trade and other financial markets are expected to react positively to the news.
After Britain's vote last year to leave the EU and Donald Trump's victory in the US, the French election had been widely watched as a test of how high a tide of right-wing nationalism would rise.
Trump, whose beliefs and temperament are seen as radically different to Macron's, congratulated the future French president on his "big win" and said he looked forward to working with him.
Le Pen, 48, had portrayed the ballot as a contest between Macron and the "globalists" -- those in favour of open trade, immigration and shared sovereignty -- and her "patriotic" vision of strong borders and national identities.
In a short statement, Le Pen, who is called Madame Frexit by many, claimed a "historic, massive result" and said she had called Macron to wish him "success" in tackling the challenges of the country.
She said her National Front (FN) party needed to undergo a "profound transformation" ahead of parliamentary elections in June, which is set to include a name change, according to one of her aides.
"The prime minister warmly congratulates President-elect Macron on his election success. France is one of our closest allies and we look forward to working with the new president on a wide range of shared priorities," said a Downing Street spokesman.
"Happy that the French chose a European future," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker wrote on Twitter.
MAJOR OBSTACLES AHEAD
Macron will face huge challenges as he attempts to enact his domestic agenda of cutting state spending, easing labour laws, boosting education in deprived areas and extending new protections to the self-employed.
The philosophy and literature lover is inexperienced, has no political party and must try to fashion a working parliamentary majority after legislative elections next month.
His En Marche movement -- "neither of the left, nor right" -- has vowed to field candidates in all 577 constituencies, with half of them women and half of them newcomers to politics.
"In order for us to act, we will need a majority in the National Assembly," the secretary general of En Marche, Richard Ferrand, told the TF1 channel, adding that only "half of the journey" had been completed.
Many analysts are sceptical about Macron's ability to win a majority with En Marche candidates alone, meaning he might have to form a coalition of lawmakers committed to his agenda.
Furthermore, his economic agenda, particularly plans to weaken labour regulations to fight stubbornly high unemployment, are likely to face fierce resistance from trade unions and his leftist opponents.
He also inherits a country which is still in a state of emergency following a string of Islamist-inspired attacks since 2015 that have killed more than 230 people.
Macron and outgoing Socialist President Francois Hollande will appear side-by-side on the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris on Monday for a ceremony to commemorate the Nazi capitulation on May 8, 1945.
The vote yesterday followed one of the most unpredictable election campaigns in modern history marked by scandal, repeated surprises and a last-minute hacking attack on Macron.
Hundreds of thousands of emails and documents stolen from his campaign were dumped online on Friday and then spread by anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, leading the candidate to call it an attempt at "democratic destabilisation."
France's election authority said publishing the documents could be a criminal offence, a warning flouted by Macron's opponents and far-right activists online.
The election saw voters eject establishment figures, including one-time favourite Francois Fillon, a rightwing ex-prime minister.
Unpopular Hollande was the first to bow to the rebellious mood in December as he declared he would be the first sitting president not to seek re-election in the French republic, founded in 1958.
In the first round of the presidential election on April 23, Macron topped the vote with 24.01 percent, followed by Le Pen on 21.30 percent, in a crowded field of 11 candidates.
The results revealed Macron was favoured among wealthier, better educated citizens in cities, while Le Pen drew support in the countryside as well as poverty-hit areas in the south and rustbelt northeast.
"France is sending... an incredible message of hope to the world," veteran centrist Francois Bayrou, an ally of Macron, told France 2 television. "Anyone who bet on this has probably made a fortune."