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    Sunday, May 7, 2017

    France picks new president in landmark vote

    Emmanuel Macron has triggered a political earthquake in French politics.
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    Emmanuel Macron has been elected president of France, according to projections, with the 39-year-old centrist winning 65.1 per cent of the vote to defeat far-right leader Marine Le Pen. South Punjab News reported
    The result is a remarkable triumph for Mr Macron, a former banker who has never held elected office and is now set to become the country’s youngest head of state since the creation of the modern French republic. He will also be the first non-party president, and his ability to form a stable government will hinge on the outcome of legislative elections next month.
    Mr Macron won an emphatic 65.1 per cent, according to a projection announced by France 2 television at 8pm French time (7pm Irish time) on Sunday, with Ms Le Pen trailing on 34.9 per cent. Turnout was estimated at 74 per cent, the lowest in the second round of a French presidential election since 1969.
    “A new page in our long history has turned tonight,” Mr Macron said as the results emerged. “I want it to be that of rediscovery of hope and trust.
    A year ago, he was a member of the government of one of the most unpopular French presidents in history.
    Now, at 39, he has won France's presidential election, defeating first the mainstream centre left and centre right and now the far right as well.

    He got lucky

    No doubt about it, Mr Macron was carried to victory in part by the winds of fortune.
    A public scandal knocked out the initial frontrunner, centre-right candidate François Fillon; and Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon, already on the left fringe of the party, suffered a very public drubbing as traditional voters looked elsewhere."He was very lucky, because he was facing a situation that was completely unexpected," says Marc-Olivier Padis, of Paris-based think tank Terra Nova.

    He was canny

    Luck doesn't tell the whole story.
    Mr Macron could have gone for the Socialist ticket, but he realised after years in power and dismal public approval ratings the party's voice would always struggle to be heard.
    "He was able to foresee there was an opportunity when nobody could," says Mr Padis.
    Instead, he looked at political movements that have sprung up elsewhere in Europe - Podemos in Spain, Italy's Five-Star Movement - and saw that there was no equivalent game-changing political force in France.
    In April 2016, he established his "people-powered" En Marche! (On the move) movement and four months later he stood down from President François Hollande's government.

    He tried something new in France

    Having established En Marche, he took his cue from Barack Obama's grassroots 2008 US election campaign, says Paris-based freelance journalist Emily Schultheis.
    His first major undertaking was the Grande Marche (Big March), when he mobilised his growing ranks of energised but inexperienced En Marche activists.
    "The campaign used algorithms from a political firm they worked with - who by the way had volunteered for the Obama campaign in 2008 - to identify districts and neighbourhoods that were most representative of France as a whole," Ms Schultheis says.
    "They sent out people to knock on 300,000 doors."
    The volunteers didn't just hand out flyers - they carried out 25,000 in-depth interviews of about 15 minutes with voters across the country. That information was entered into a large database which helped inform campaign priorities and policies.
    "It was a massive focus group for Macron in gauging the temperature of the country but also made sure that people had contact with his movement early on, making sure that volunteers knew how to go door to door. It was a training exercise that really laid the groundwork for what he did this year," Ms Schultheis explains.
    And he capitalised on it.But he dodged attempts to label him as another François Hollande, creating a profile that resonated among people desperate for something new.
    "There is a very prevalent pessimistic mood in France - in a way, too pessimistic - and he comes with a very optimistic, positive message," says Marc-Olivier Padis.
    "He's young, full of energy, and he's not explaining what he'll do for France but how people will get opportunities. He's the only one to have this kind of message."

    He was up against Marine Le Pen

    Up against his more optimistic tone, Marine Le Pen's message came across as negative - anti-immigration, anti-EU, anti-system.
    Macron campaign rallies featured brightly lit arenas blaring with pop music, says Emily Schultheis, while Marine Le Pen's mass meetings involved protesters throwing bottles and flares, a heavy police presence, dark audience stands and an "angrier" undercurrent.The big TV debate on 3 May was an angry affair, with a string of insults hurled by both sides.
    She was a "grand priestess of fear", a snake-oil merchant from the same extremist background as her father. He was a Socialist puppet, a dangerous tool of global finance who would do whatever Germany's Angela Merkel asked.
    But many were alarmed by the prospect of a potentially destabilising and divisive far-right presidency and saw him as the last obstacle in her way.
    Marine Le Pen may have run a highly effective campaign, but her poll ratings have been on the slide for months. She was ahead in the polls last year, nudging 30%, and yet in just two weeks she has been beaten twice by Emmanuel Macron.

    He had a positive message

    Mr Macron's political persona appears beset with contradictions.
    The "newcomer" who was President Hollande's protege and then economy minister; the ex-investment banker running a grassroots movement; the centrist with a radical programme to slash the public sector.
    It was perfect ammunition for run-off rival Marine Le Pen, who said he was the candidate of the elite, not the novice he said he was.

    Turnout at 1500 GMT stood at 65.30 percent, 6.6 points down on the 2012 presidential election and about four points lower than the April 23 first round, data from the interior ministry showed.
    Le Pen, 48, has portrayed the ballot as a contest between "globalists" such as Macron, who back free trade and immigration, and "patriots" who defend national borders and identities.
    She is hoping to spring a shock win that would resonate as widely as Britain´s decision to withdraw from the European Union or the unexpected victory of US President Donald Trump.
    Macron, who topped the first round of the election on April 23, is the runaway favourite however, with polls giving him a lead of more than 20 points over Le Pen.
    Most polling stations close at 1700 GMT, but those in big cities will stay open an hour longer. First estimated results will be published at 1800 GMT.
    - ´World is watching´ -
    Le Pen cast a ballot in her northern stronghold of Henin-Beaumont, where bare-breasted Femen activists climbed scaffolding on a church and unfurled a banner reading: "Power for Marine, despair for Marianne," referring to the symbol of France.
    Macron and his wife Brigitte voted in the northern seaside resort of Le Touquet where they have a holiday home.
    Both candidates later travelled to Paris to see in the results.
    "The world is watching," said 32-year-old marketing worker Marie Piot as she voted in a working-class part of northwest Paris.
    "After Brexit and Trump, it´s as if we are the last bastion of the Enlightenment," she said.
    In a sign of the security jitters caused by a string of jihadist attacks since 2015, the square outside the Louvre Museum, where Macron will hold a victory party if elected, was evacuated on Sunday afternoon.
    A spokesman for Macron´s En Marche (On The Move) movement said a suspicious package had been found.
    Outgoing Socialist President Francois Hollande, who decided in December against seeking re-election, cast his ballot in his former electoral fiefdom of Tulle, in central France.
    Hollande, who plucked Macron from virtual obscurity to name him economy minister in 2014, said voting "is always an important, significant act, heavy with consequences".
    - ´Democratic destabilisation´ -
    The last polls before the vote showed Macron extending his lead to around 62 percent to 38 percent over Le Pen after a bruising TV debate in which Macron was seen as the hands-down winner.
    The hacking of his campaign was revealed on Friday evening. Paris prosecutors are investigating the attack, a source close to the case said Sunday.
    Hundreds of thousands of emails and documents were dumped online and then spread by anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, in what the candidate called an attempt at "democratic destabilisation".
    France´s election authority said publishing the documents could be a criminal offence, a warning heeded by traditional media organisations.
    - No traditional parties -
    Whoever wins Sunday´s vote, it is set to cause profound change for France, the world´s sixth-biggest economy, a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a global military power.
    It is the first time neither of the country´s traditional parties has a candidate in the final round of the presidential election under the modern French republic, founded in 1958.
    Macron would be France´s youngest-ever president and was a virtual unknown before his two-year stint as economy minister, the launchpad for his presidential bid.
    He left the Socialist government in August and formed his movement that he says is neither of the left nor the right and which has attracted 250,000 members.
    Macron campaigned on pledges to ease labour laws, boost education in deprived areas and extend new protections to the self-employed.
    He is also fervently pro-European and wants to re-energise the soon-to-be 27-member European Union, following Britain´s referendum vote last June to leave.
    - Backlash against globalisation -
    National Front leader Le Pen sees herself as part of the same backlash against globalisation that has emerged as a powerful theme in the United States and in recent elections in Britain, Austria and The Netherlands.
    She has pledged to organise a referendum on withdrawing France from the EU and wants to scrap the euro, which she has dubbed a "currency of bankers".
    Le Pen has also vowed to reduce net immigration to 10,000 people a year, crack down on outsourcing by multinationals, lower the retirement age and introduce hardline measures to tackle Islamist extremists.
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