- The Washington Times
Sunday, May 7, 2017

Former finance minister Emmanuel Macron soundly defeated Marine Le Pen, the candidate of France’s right-wing National Front party, Sunday to become the country’s next president.

With about 80 percent of the vote tally complete, Mr. Macron, a former Socialist Party member who founded a new bloc to run for president on a pro-European Union platform as France’s major parties imploded, had won 64 percent of the votes over Ms. Le Pen’s 36 percent.

His campaign had the support of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and the victory became the biggest reversal of a string of populist rebukes to Western nations’ political establishments, such as the Brexit vote in Britain and the election of Donald Trump in the U.S.

“A new page in our long history this evening. I would like it to be one of hope and of confidence rediscovered,” Mr. Macron said shortly after the poll numbers showing the landslide win for his new party “En Marche” were released.

In a later victory rally before thousands of flag-waving supporters outside the famed Louvre museum, while Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” played, he said “France has won” and attributed the Le Pen vote to “anger, disarray.”

Mr. Macron said people worldwide were “waiting for us to defend the spirit of the Enlightenment, threatened in so many places.”

SEE ALSO: Trump congratulates Emmanuel Macron on France election win

Footage showed signs in English reading “hope beats hate.”

Ms. Le Pen’s National Front party harnessed anti-foreigner and anti-EU sentiment, especially in the aftermath of massive terrorist attacks by the Islamic State group on civilians in Paris and Nice.

She quickly conceded shortly after initial returns came in but vowed to transform the National Front to appeal to a larger portion of the French electorate. She said the campaign had turned France’s right wing into the “biggest opposition force” in the country for upcoming parliamentary elections.

“I call on all patriots to join us,” she said. “France will need you more than ever in the months ahead.”

Mr. Macron’s victory is the latest but also the biggest European repudiation of right-wing populist political movements, following defeats of such candidates in the Netherlands and Austria.

British Prime Minister Theresa May warmly congratulated Mr. Macron on his presidential win, adding in a statement that the United Kingdom “will look forward to working with the new president on a wide range of shared priorities.”

In a two-sentence statement, the Trump administration also offered congratulations to Mr. Macron “and the people of France on their successful presidential election.”

“We look forward to working with the new president and continuing our close cooperation with the French government,” the White House said.

On Twitter, President Trump congratulated Mr. Macron on his “big win,” saying, “I look very much forward to working with him!” With his win, the 39-year-old former economy minister will replace outgoing President Francois Hollande as the youngest president in the history of France.

Democrats laud win

Mrs. Clinton, who lost the November presidential race to Mr. Trump, also lauded Mr. Macron’s win as a rebuke for anti-democratic forces, possibly a reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom she blamed in part for her loss.

In a tweet Sunday afternoon, the former first lady said the Macron victory was also one “for France, the EU, & the world. Defeat to those interfering w/democracy.”

Shortly before the polls opened in France, Mr. Obama took the unusual step of publicly supporting Mr. Macron in an online political ad endorsing the newly minted French leader.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday that Mr. Macron’s win was proof that “democratic institutions across France proved resilient” as a political check to right-wing populist movements that swept across Europe and the U.S.

In December, Austrian Green Party candidate Alexander Van der Bellen defeated his nationalist opponent Norbert Hofer, who campaigned on an anti-immigration platform and sought to build off the growing national populist fervor in Europe.

In March, Dutch nationalist Geert Wilders, dubbed Europe’s Donald Trump, was soundly defeated by conservative Prime Minister Mark Rutte in an election widely viewed as a bellwether moment for Europe’s burgeoning populist movement.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that despite these defeats, right-wing populism movements have made their mark on U.S. and European politics.

“I really do believe that these populists are changing the character of the politics just by being there, so even mainstream candidates are having to respond to their agenda,” she told USA Today.

“You see countries talking about industrial policy and protectionism. It’s hard to defend immigrants almost anyplace in the world today,” she said. “The rise of nativism is having an impact on the politics, even if the candidates aren’t winning.”

Two-step election

In the first round of voting two weeks ago, Mr. Macron took 25 percent of the vote over Ms. Le Pen’s 21 percent.

Republican candidate Francois Fillon and left-wing hopeful Jean-Luc Melenchon were eliminated during the first round, putting Mr. Macron and Ms. Le Pen on a collision course in the Sunday runoff election.

Benoit Hamon, the formal candidate for the ruling Socialists, got a mere 6 percent of the vote, and the unprecedented absence of both the longtime-dominant parties (the Socialists and the Republicans) from the runoff marked the race as a potential political earthquake.

But Mr. Macron’s victory means that French withdrawal from the EU and the euro currency and abandonment of the “European project” is not on the table — for now, anyway.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that “if he fails, in five years Ms. Le Pen will be president and the European project will go to the dogs.”

In his speech, Mr. Macron said he knew much of his support simply expressed opposition to Ms. Le Pen and the National Front, which the French establishment has repeatedly declared as beyond the pale because of its history of anti-Semitism and its anti-immigration platform.

“I know that this is not a blank check,” he told his supporters. “I know about our disagreements. I will respect them.”

After the result, about 100 masked protesters in Paris clashed with tear-gas-firing police, the latest round of rioting against both runoff candidates by anarchist and similar groups that see Mr. Macron as too pro-business and Ms. Le Pen as racist.

Mr. Macron had led in all polling in the run-up to the election, prompting some political pundits to compare his lead to Mrs. Clinton’s standings before her shocking loss to Mr. Trump.

Parallels between Mrs. Clinton’s campaign and Mr. Macron’s deepened Friday when reports surfaced that the Macron campaign was the target of a massive hacking operation.

Over 9 gigabytes of information, including sensitive documents, personal emails and other bits of data from the Macron campaign, was posted online a day before the polls opened in France.

Published on the 4Chan website shortly before the countrywide media blackout ahead of the presidential vote, news of the leaked information was advertised on right-wing or “alt-right” chatrooms and websites, and links to the mass data dump were tweeted out by WikiLeaks and a senior member of the National Front.

Officials in Paris are expected to launch a government investigation into the leak, which is suspected to be the work of Russian cyberwarfare specialists with military ties to Moscow, according to local reports.

Hacks of Clinton campaign officials and the Democratic National Committee last year roiled the U.S. electorate, driving up support for Mr. Trump by calling into question Mrs. Clinton’s competence and making public embarrassing information about her and her party.

Dave Boyer contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports from France.

• Carlo Muñoz can be reached at cmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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