The Difficult Job Ahead for Macron
Emmanuel Macron’s convincing victory shines like a beacon of hope for liberals around the world struggling to reinvent social democracy while reeling under the onslaught of nationalist authoritarian regimes. His achievement is outstanding, but even more than squarely defeating the extreme-right is the promise of a new élan to French democracy, tired after so many reverses and misfortunes of the last decade.
- With parliamentary elections in June, it remains to be seen what the electorate will grant Macron to aid his rule.
- Macron must mend and heal a divided France.
- He will most likely find it hard to negotiate and compromise with the mainstream parties who are reeling in defeat.
His youth gives hope too of a new leadership which will break with the ghosts of the past and provide direction to a new world order where Europe will assume a more proactive role.
A role all the more essential as the globalisation discourse derails towards isolationism in the Anglo-Saxon world and has therefore to be reinvented elsewhere to survive.
His decisive victory gives Macron the necessary authority to push for a new post-Brexit Europe, in concert with Germany. A Europe more generous with its members struggling to make democracy work, and sterner with those who violate its basic foundation values. A Europe closer to its people, shunning the excesses of neoliberal hyper-globalisation to provide the lead for a new and more equitable world economic order.
Beyond the relief at the outcome of this historic contest is the prospect of competing logics: will the French electorate create a new majority for the president to implement his programme in the legislative elections? Or will they vote to power an assembly which would act as a check on the many contested features of his agenda?
The result may well be a combination of both, and in fractured times coalitions are often the only viable solution. What will be tested in June is the founding logic of the Fifth Republic system, based on the postulate that political parties divide while presidents elected by universal suffrage unite and reassemble the people.
In one of his first discourse, Emmanuel Macron has promised to make the extremes irrelevant and to unite all citizens whatever were their choices. May 7 2017.
Governing above the head of political parties was a Gaullist vision that may be difficult to recreate sixty years later. Political parties represent durable social realities and while the current clutch of leaders has lost credibility it would be difficult to ignore the social forces they represent.
Setting the fringes aside, there is a massive agenda of reconstruction that lies ahead for the party system. The significant number of abstention votes – the highest number since 1969 for a second round of presidential elections- and invalid and blank ones is a measure of the alienation from the system.
The extreme right and far left may well be the biggest losers in this election despite the apparent increase in their vote share. Much will depend on how those who gravitated towards them from a sense of alienation and economic discontent are wooed back. Have they lost faith in democracy itself? There is nothing to indicate that they can’t be won back.
Macron has promised to govern in such a manner that he makes the extremes irrelevant. France may yet set the trend for a revival of the values it proudly proclaimed to the world after the fall of the Bastille.
The end of “republican monarchy” in France
France is a semi-presidential system. The “semi” is most important part as it means that the actual powers of the president are strongly affected by the results of the legislative elections which have, at times, given a parliamentary majority to the president. But, at other times, it has imposed what the French call “cohabitation” – when the president and the prime minister belong to opposing parties .
This uncertainty is all the more important now as:
- Macron is a president without a party. It is very unluckily that he can count on a strong and stable majority in parliament.
- Macron is president in a situation in which it will be quite difficult to negotiate a compromise with mainstream parties, which have been the main victims of these elections.
- Macron has been voted, by many, as the lesser evil to the face to the xenophobic radical right.
- Notwithstanding the perceived risk of a victory of the radical right, the abstention rate in this election has been extremely high.
- With his image as a banker and his support for neoliberal reform, Macron is likely to face strong opposition by a radical Left that has found energy in the protests of the citizen-led “Nuit Debout” movement. Its power was demonstrated last year against a far-reaching reform of the labour code in France – as well as in the extremely successful electoral campaign of the far-left firebrand Jean Luc Melenchon.
In a sense, the Macron’s presidency is a signal of the end of the “republican monarchy” in France.