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France

Macron wins French presidential election but abstentions highest since 1969

media Emmanuel Macron DR

Emmanuel Macron has been elected president of France with 65.5 percent of the vote, beating the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, according to official estimates. But the abstention rate - at 25 percent - is the highest since 1969.

After a campaign packed with shocks, dirty tricks and invective, Macron beat the National Front leader, who won 34.5 percent support, to become, at 39, the youngest president in the history of France's post-war fifth republic.

But his victory was marred by the high number of abstentions, many of them apparently from left-wingers who voted for Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round and are bittetly hostile to his free-market economic programme.

So Macron can expect vigorous opposition from unions and a left boosted by Mélenchon's seven million votes to his plan to make new reforms to France's labour law and social conflict seems pretty much guaranteed.

Relief for EU leaders

Macron's election will have been greeted with a huge sigh of relief in Brussels, where Le Pen's threat to pull out of the euro and put France's membership of the European Union to a referendum had sent shivers down spines, especially in the aftermath of Brexit.

Most of France's mainstream politicians feel the same way, failed right-wing candidate François Fillon having called for a vote for the centrist to stop Le Pen, as did most MPs of his Republicans Party, and many of the Socialist Party leaders having campaigned for Macron, despite the fact that the party had its own candidate, Benoît Hamon, in the first round.

Mainstream parties humiliated

Although most commentators stressed the difference in their programmes, Macron and Le Pen did have some things in common - they are both millionaires, they have both claimed to be neither on the right nor on the left, and they both lead parties that have never held the presidency or led a government.

Both France's mainstream parties - the Socialists and the Republicans - came out of the first round profoundly damaged and the second round result will increase their woes.

Le Pen referred to their "decomposition" in her speech after the result was announced, adding that her party would undergo a "profound transformation" in order to create a "new political force."

The two traditional parties have been rejected by many who feel hard hit by globalisation and European Union-backed austerity policies.

Some Republicans voters appear to have ignored Fillon's appeal and backed Le Pen, who is now a major force on the right, even if her much-criticised performance in her TV debate with Macron may have damaged her attempts to render the National Front (FN) acceptable.

The Socialists, too, have lost support to the FN, notably in deindustrialised areas like the north, which was a bastion of theirs for decades.

Parliamentary elections to follow

The parliamentary elections that will take place in June will be a major challenge for both the Republicans and the Socialists.

Macron, who will form the next government, has said that his En Marche ! (Onwards!) party will not endorse any candidate who does not stand under its colours.

That poses a dilemma for any politician with ambitions to be a minister, former Socialist prime minister Manuel Valls, for example.

So there could be mass defections, particularly from Socialist ranks.

Of course, En Marche !, which has only just been formed, may not repeat its presidential success in the parliamentary poll and Macron could be obliged to form some sort of coalition.

In any case, the next parliament is likely to be very different in its make-up to the outgoing one.

The National Front certainly hopes to increase its number of MPs from the one member and the one supporter in the present legislature.

Mélenchon and his allies also hope to increase their representation, although projections in the media do not show a triumph for them.

Whatever happens, France's 2017 presidential election has turned a page of history and the next chapter in the country's history looks likely to be stormy.

To read our French presidential election 2017 coverage click here

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