Monday 19 February 2018

'New page in history opening' as Macron sweeps to victory

Emmanuel Macron salutes his supporters after voting in the northern coastal town of Le Touquet early yesterday Picture: Reuters
Emmanuel Macron salutes his supporters after voting in the northern coastal town of Le Touquet early yesterday Picture: Reuters

John Leicester

French voters have elected Emmanuel Macron as the country's youngest ever president, delivering a resounding victory to the unabashedly pro-European former investment banker over his far-right opponent Marine Le Pen.

At a victory party outside the Louvre Museum in Paris, Mr Macron supporters roared with delight at the news, waving red, white and blue tricolour flags. The jubilant crowd swelled to thousands as the night wore on.

"A new page in our long history is opening tonight. I want it to be one of hope and renewed confidence," Mr Macron said.

Ms Le Pen (48) quickly called the 39-year-old Mr Macron to concede defeat after voters rejected her "French-first" nationalism by a large margin.

Mr Macron, in a solemn televised victory speech, vowed to heal the social divisions exposed by France's acrimonious election campaign and bring "hope and renewed confidence" to his country.

"I know the divisions in our nation that led some to extreme votes. I respect them," he declared. "I know the anger, the anxiety, the doubts that a large number of you also expressed. It is my responsibility to hear them."

Read More: French citizens flock to polling booths in Dublin and Cork

The result wasn't even close: With four-fifths of votes counted, Mr Macron had 64pc support to Ms Le Pen's 36pc.

Ms Le Pen's performance dashed her hopes that the populist wave which swept Donald Trump into the White House and led Britain to Brexit would also carry her to France's presidential Elysée Palace.

Mr Macron's victory marked the third time in six months - following elections in Austria and the Netherlands - that European voters shot down far-right populists who wanted to restore borders across Europe. The election of a French president who championed European unity could also strengthen the EU's hand in its complex divorce proceedings with Britain.

Parisians lined streets outside his campaign headquarters as Mr Macron left in a motorcade to join the party at the Louvre. There, the European anthem "Ode to Joy" played as Mr Macron strode out to address his supporters.

"France has won!" he said. "Everyone said it was impossible. But they did not know France!"

Read More: EU leaders breathe a huge sigh of relief as many voters pick 'the lesser of two evils'

Saying Le Pen voters backed her because they were angry, he vowed: "I will do everything in the five years to come so there is no more reason to vote for the extremes."

Many French voters had backed him reluctantly, simply to keep out Ms Le Pen and her National Front party, which has a long anti-Semitic and racist history.

After the most closely watched and unpredictable French presidential campaign in recent memory, many voters rejected the run-off choices altogether. Pollsters projected that French voters cast blank or spoiled ballots in record numbers yesterday.

Congratulatory messages poured in from abroad. Mr Trump tweeted congratulations on what he called Mr Macron's "big win" and said he looked forward to working with the French leader.

Mr Macron has said he wants continued intelligence-sharing with the United States and cooperation at the United Nations and hopes to persuade Mr Trump not to pull the US out of a global accord fighting climate change.

Germany's foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel laced his welcome for Mr Macron with a warning to the French, saying: "If he fails, in five years Ms Le Pen will be president and the European project will go to the dogs."

Until now, modern France had been governed either by the Socialists or the conservatives. Both Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen upended that right-left tradition.

"France has sent an incredible message to itself, to Europe and the world," said Mr Macron ally Francois Bayrou, tipped among his possible choices for prime minister.

"I'm so happy, it feels so good! I lived the election of Donald Trump in New York, and now finally, after Brexit, after Trump, populism has been beaten in France," said Pierre-Yves Colinet, a joyous Macron supporter at the Louvre victory party. "Today, I'm proud to be French."

Irish Independent

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