A case for liberty, equality and fraternity

For one, there seems to be a wave of nationalist sentiment now sweeping across the liberal commune that once prided itself as the West.
A case for liberty, equality and fraternity

Chennai: The highly-anticipated French presidential election held on Sunday saw the incumbent centrist and pro-Europe candidate, Emmanuel Macron registering a comfortable win against his rival, the far right candidate Marine Le Pen. Having secured close to 58% of the votes, Macron braces for a second term in office, a feat until now accomplished only by two French presidents before him. The election results were eagerly followed by stakeholders globally. And there’s good reason for the world’s attention to be drawn to the developments in Paris.

For one, there seems to be a wave of nationalist sentiment now sweeping across the liberal commune that once prided itself as the West. Beginning with Donald Trump’s appointment as the 45th president of the US, the aftershocks of which were felt in the four tumultuous years of his Presidency, to the latest affront to political decency perpetrated in the form of the Russian invasion of Ukraine — the understanding that the West would emerge as a shining example of inclusivity and assimilation has run into the ground. While Le Pen, a nationalist leader with a soft corner for Putin has conceded defeat, this time around the margin of victory with which Macron defeated her seems to be much narrower.

It’s a telling revelation considering the nature of the alternative that the French public was willing to choose over their reigning president. Le Pen, who is seen as a poster child for extreme ideology in France, had borrowed more than one chapter from the Trump playbook when it came to mobilising support for her campaign.

One of her key stances was training her guns on the Muslim population of France, which interestingly has over 5 mn people who follow Islam (Europe’s largest Muslim population, followed by Germany with over 4 mn Muslims). Like Trump, Pen follows a strategy of divide and conquer, inciting distrust among populations and targeting the most vulnerable individuals, while Macron has been criticised for failing to rein in the rising cost of living, a boomerang effect of the surge in gas prices resulting from sanctions imposed on Russia.

The National Front leader has been outspoken about her views regarding France’s relationship with the EU bloc. She has also mentioned how she would pull France out of NATO, if she came into power, a statement that has earned her considerable brownie points from the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as the autocratic Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who had won his fourth consecutive term in office a few weeks ago. It’s a reason, policy experts who had feared that after Brexit, a Frexit might be impending, heaved a sigh of relief when Macron blazed past Le Pen on Sunday.

But Macron’s victory is not an indicator of ‘right over wrong’. About 28% of voters in France abstained from the electoral process this time around, indicative of cynicism and a disillusionment with the polity that hasn’t been as stark since 1969. Le Pen, who garnered 41% of the votes, had in fact counted on her manifesto items like banning people in France from wearing Islamic headscarves in public. And whether Paris likes to admit it or not, almost one in every two persons in the country, among those who had turned up to vote, had agreed with her.

Needless to say, Macron has a challenging presidency ahead of him in the coming days, as the parliamentary polls are also slated to be held in June. With multiple focus areas on his mind — engaging with Russia, steadying the economy, and keeping the right wing activity in check, Macron is bound to discover that maintaining the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity might be easier said than done in France.

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