(PARIS) — French President Emmanuel Macron comfortably won a second term in office on Sunday, defeating far-right challenger Marine Le Pen in a closely watched runoff election.
Final results released by the French Ministry of the Interior on Monday show the centrist incumbent secured a decisive 58.54% of the vote, while Le Pen garnered 41.46%. Macron, 44, is the first sitting French president to be reelected in 20 years. He and Le Pen, 53, emerged as the top candidates in the 2022 French presidential election after a first-round vote on April 10. Sunday’s runoff was a rematch of the 2017 presidential election, in which Macron beat Le Pen by a landslide.
This year, however, Macron’s victory was marred by low voter turnout and Le Pen’s ever-rising popularity. According to official figures, approximately 28% of registered voters in France did not vote in Sunday’s presidential election, the highest amount in the past two decades. French voters can also show their dissatisfaction with both candidates by voting “blanc.” Blank ballots represented 6.35% of the votes on Sunday.
While Le Pen conceded defeat on Sunday night, she told her supporters that the “result represents in itself a dazzling victory” because the amount of votes she won was the highest by a far-right candidate in France’s modern history.
Henri Wallard, the chairman of French polling institute Ipsos in Paris and its global deputy CEO, said the outcome of the 2022 presidential election showed that Le Pen’s “‘de-demonization’ has partially worked.”
“A Le Pen vote is increasingly seen as a credible alternative and not just a protest vote,” Wallard told ABC News on Monday.
Douglas Yates, a professor of international relations and diplomacy at the American Graduate School in Paris, said Macron was triumphant “less because the French support his programs and more because they did not support Le Pen’s.”
“He must keep this in mind,” Yates told ABC News on Monday. “She promised domestic programs that would be popular, things that help them fight the cost of living. He should take out his checkbook and write them some checks if he wants to keep his majority in the upcoming legislative elections.”
Macron was all but absent from the campaign trail as he moderated talks between Putin and Western countries, which ultimately failed to prevent the war in Ukraine. Many French citizens were feeling disenfranchised by Macron’s stringent COVID-19 policies and unpopular plans to raise the legal retirement age amid widespread inflation and soaring gas prices.
Nevertheless, the election outcome proved that “there still was an anti-Le Pen front in large urban constituencies,” according to Wallard.
During his victory speech in front of Paris’ Eiffel Tower on Sunday night, Macron vowed to unite his divided country.
“An answer must be found to the anger and disagreements that led many of our compatriots to vote for the extreme right,” Macron told his supporters. “It will be my responsibility and that of those around me.”
Although Le Pen’s far-right French political party National Rally has performed poorly in previous legislative elections, Yates said the party’s strongholds in the south, east and north of France “might give them seats” when voters return to the polls in June.
Le Pen, known for her vociferous rhetoric, sought to soften her image as the leader of the National Rally during this year’s election. The former lawyer was no longer directly calling for France to leave the European Union and abandon the euro currency.
However, she was likened to former U.S. President Donald Trump with her hard-line policies on Islam and immigration. If elected, she vowed to ban Muslim headscarves in public and give French citizens priority over foreigners for housing and job benefits.
Le Pen was also criticized for her history of support for Russian President Vladimir Putin. She called Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine “unacceptable” and said she’s in favor of sanctions, but she publicly opposed restrictions on Russian energy imports, citing concerns about the rising cost of living in France. She also pledged to withdraw France from NATO’s integrated military command, which could undermine support for Ukraine’s fight. Le Pen previously spoke out in favor of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
Ahead of the vote, French street artist Jaeraymie created distorted versions of Le Pen’s campaign posters in an effort to call out extremism. In one of his posters seen in Paris, Le Pen is depicted wearing a hijab, a Muslim headscarf, with the words: “Don’t submit to a thinly veiled extreme right.”
“She wants to ban the hijab in public spaces in France,” Jaeraymie told ABC News earlier this month. “So I found it interesting to tell her: ‘Why not imagine what it’s like to be a hijabi woman in France?'”
A passerby at the time was amused by the large poster, telling ABC News: “It’s quite funny to put into question their ideas.”
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