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Monday, May 8, 2017

France: when 65% is not a mandate.


Emmanuel Macron, who takes office as president of France in a week, scored a firm but indecisive victory last night. His triumphant acceptance speech before the Louvre's iconic pyramid (designed by the American I.P. Pei, who turned 100 April 26) was visually stunning but left in the darkness the even steeper precipice Macron must now climb.

A 65.1% win sounds convincing, but for all the social media clamor that the Right has been turned back, you are cautioned to read past the headlines.

-Voter turnout was the lowest in forty years.

-The voter abstention rate was the highest in forty-eight years. Twelve million French rejected both candidates; another four million spoiled their ballot papers.

-M. Macron assumes leadership of one side of what political scientists call France's bicephalous- two headed- government. The executive power of the government is divided between the president and a prime minister who must, as in the British style, get and keep a majority in the National Assembly.

The National Assembly is a lame duck body; its five-year term ends in June. Its members are nearly all of the Left/Right party blocs (57.7% Socialist/Green, etc.; 39.7% conservative parties).

Thus Macron, who heads a movement that is barely a party; and Le Pen, his vanquished opponent of the National Front- who leads a parliamentary delegation of two- are in a very odd stance.

The new government and opposition are entirely outside the government; the parliamentary delegates are of parties whose presidential candidates were shut out of the runoff by voters (the outgoing Socialist president, Francois Hollande, declined to seek a second term after his approval rating reached 4%).

-Hardly installed, Macron will now have to go back to voters to ask for a parliament to enact his program.

That is a course fraught with risks.

For one thing, Marine Le Pen and the National Front are not going to go away. She polled twice the vote her father did in 2002, when he led the Far Right into the presidential runoff.

In an editorial last night, The Guardian noted,
[Macron] has five weeks before the first round of elections that may make him the presidential prisoner of a hostile National Assembly in a “cohabitation” France can ill afford. Under the Fifth Republic it has had little experience of coalition government, and the party system, with the exception of the extreme-right Front National, is in disarray. The far-left will need to be won round by social programmes dependent on economic growth that eluded Mr Hollande. Each time Mr Macron falters, he may increase the chances of a rematch with Ms Le Pen in 2022. She has already pledged “a profound transformation” of her party to create “a new political force”.
In the end, his challenge is to translate campaigning into governing and slogans into actions. He leads a nation in trouble, whose public is often more anxious and angry than confident and trustful. He must make innovative centrist government work on a continent where many have despaired of it. His own future depends on him living up to his promises. Many others, here as in France itself, have an equal stake in his success.
And that doesn't even begin to reach the EU's troubles, and how France and Germany tackle those. Mrs Merkel's trial by the Right and the Russians is still to come.

So is dealing with the Tweeter-in-Chief, who all but endorsed Macron's opponent last week (even as she veered away from him after her disastrous debate performance):




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