French President Emmanuel Macron won a second five-year term on Sunday, but the neoliberal incumbent’s victory over far-right challenger Marine Le Pen was significantly closer than it was in 2017 — portending an ominous future for the country in the absence of far-reaching egalitarian reforms.
Macron received a projected 58% of the vote to Le Pen’s 42%, becoming the first French president since 2002 to be reelected. Macron’s 16-point margin of victory, however, underscores how much ground Le Pen’s openly xenophobic and Islamophobic party has gained since the previous election when both candidates faced off in the runoff round for the first time. Just five years ago, Macron beat Le Pen much more soundly — 66% to 34%.
Earlier this month, Daniel Zamora Vargas, an assistant professor of sociology at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, argued on social media that Macron, a former investment banker who has reduced the corporate tax rate and exacerbated economic inequality and insecurity, “is no centrist.”
“He was the most right-wing president of the 5th Republic,” said Zamora. “He created the conditions for the extreme-right to be able to win the presidential election.”
Macron, who has pursued anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim policies of his own, “legitimated all the topics of the extreme-right” and “totally normalized” Le Pen, Zamora wrote as first-round votes were counted on April 10.
French people were forced to “vote for Le Pen or vote for what created a favorable environment for Le Pen’s ideas,” Zamora said last week. “It’s a choice between an evil and the cause of that evil.”
On Sunday, British Labor Party parliamentarian Zarah Sultana made a similar point: “By trying to outdo the far-right, ‘moderates’ legitimize and mainstream them. That’s the context for Le Pen gaining 8% from 2017.”
“We need progressive anti-systemic alternatives,” she added.
Last year Macron’s Interior Minister accused Le Pen of being “soft… not tough enough” on Islam.
By trying to outdo the far-right, ‘moderates’ legitimise and mainstream them. That’s the context for Le Pen gaining 8% from 2017.
We need progressive anti-systemic alternatives.
— Zarah Sultana MP (@zarahsultana) April 24, 2022
Left-wing presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon came up just short of a second-place finish in the opening round. Fortunately for Macron, Mélenchon advised his disappointed voters to “not give a single vote” to Le Pen.
In her concession speech, which she delivered shortly after polls closed, Le Pen said that “the ideas that we represent have reached new heights.” She called Sunday’s performance a “striking victory” and said that her National Rally party is “more determined than ever.”