The result of the French elections on Sunday show that while extremism has been defeated, “the battle is far from over”, said Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister, Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
39-year old Emmanuel Macron, the pro-EU centrist, beat the 48-year old far-right Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, by a decisive 65% to 35% of the vote.
“His victory was hailed by his supporters as holding back a tide of populism after the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s victory in the US election,” The Guardian newspaper reported.
“Everyone said it was impossible,” Macron said in his victory speech. “But they didn’t know France!”
For now, at least, France – and Europe – heaves a sigh of relief.
However, there are concerns about the results, despite Macron’s emphatic margin of victory over Le Pen.
“Despite the wide margin of the final result, Le Pen’s score nonetheless marked a historic high for the French far right. Even after a lacklustre campaign that ended with a calamitous performance in the final TV debate, she was projected to have taken almost 11m votes, double that of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, when he reached the presidential run-off in 2002. The anti-immigration, anti-EU Front National’s supporters asserted that the party had a central place as an opposition force in France.”
Mr Tharman, who was the Chairman of the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC), said that while Marcon’s victory “brings hope to France, Europe and the world”, there are remaining concerns.
“Openness and tolerance defeated extremism,” Mr Tharman posted on his Facebook page on Monday morning, following the election results. “But the battle is far from over.”
“The French results show that the extreme right and its brand of populist nationalism is now in the mainstream,” Mr Tharman said. “Le Pen’s National Front won a historic one third of votes – and a majority amongst blue-collar voters. And large numbers of people cast blank votes, or did not bother to vote.”
Mr Tharman, the newly-appointed chairman of G-30, a prestigious group of leading global economists and policymarkers based in Washington, DC, added: “Extremism will only be checked, in France as in many other countries, when ordinary families have confidence in the future.”
He said this can be happen with “real progress made in tackling high youth unemployment and segregated neighbourhoods”, and “multiculturalism embraced by both immigrants and native citizens.”
“So Emmanuel Macron has a tough task,” Mr Tharman said. “He starts without a political base in parliament. But he also starts with the courage to break the mould.”
The first test for Mr Macron, who does not have an established party organisation behind him, could be the parliamentary elections next month.
“I understand the divisions in our nation which led some to vote for extremes. I understand the anger, the doubts and…