Amid televised insults and counterblasts from leading candidates last week, France's presidential election was held smoothly on May 7. Despite terrorist threat, independent centrist Emmanuel Macron won the race towards Élysée Palace defeating far-right rival Marine Le Pen. Incidentally, Russia allegedly hacked Macron's campaign emails and the French government is already taking it seriously. As Le Pen claimed that Macron has an offshore bank account, the president-elect filed a lawsuit against her. Conversely, she was pelted with eggs at the end of the campaign trail in Brittany. There is no doubt that France's recent polls went bizarre with scandalous twists and turns.
Besides, the country witnessed one of the lowest voter turnouts in history. Unlike the 2012 race, the turnout was estimated at less than 65 per cent. Macron secured 62 per cent votes against the 38 per cent from National Front candidate Le Pen. At the age of 39, Macron is France's youngest president-elect till date. Plus, he lacks any past experience in politics - this is why pundits dismissed him as a 'political stunt'! One week before election, Macron was endorsed by former US President Barack H. Obama who was quite popular in France.
Arguably, Macron's victory has ruled out any chance of France's exit from European Union (EU) following the Brexit. Allegedly initiated by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the recent cyber-attacks have failed to sway French voters in favour of Le Pen. She had been supporting Putin eloquently saying that EU's economic sanctions against Russia were 'counterproductive'. Meanwhile, Macron declared in his victory speech: "A new page has begun in our long history this evening. I want to be one of hope and re-trust for the people of France...I would defend Europe because our civilisation is at stake." Anyway, Macron was congratulated by Le Pen - a Eurosceptic lawyer as well as far-right opponent of NATO and Muslim immigrants. On top, US President Donald J. Trump congratulated Macron via Tweeter while former US President Bill Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders sent similar messages. It seems that EU leaders can express a sigh of relief now.
Moreover, Macron has a long list of challenges like saving France from a high unemployment rate of ten per cent alongside a stagnant economy, a weak GDP growth and growing security concerns. As a business-friendly leader, Macron wants to boost the economy with liberalised labour laws and minimised restrictions for France's 35-hour working week. Plus, he seeks an increase in defence and police budget while raising teachers' salaries. In order to pass legislation concerning such policies, Macron's new political party En Marche must win two-third majority of the 577-seat French parliament following elections in June. He should not lose the chance to unite a deeply-divided country and help to smoothly conduct its businesses as Eurozone's second powerhouse.
The writer is a retired diplomat from Bangladesh.