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Emmanuel Macron's Win Marks a 'Defeat of Populism,' Analysts Say

But legislative elections in June may force the center-left candidate to work with French rightists.
President-elect Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech in front of the Pyramid at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, on May 7th, 2017.

President-elect Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech in front of the Pyramid at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, on May 7th, 2017.

France's center-left candidate, Emmanuel Macron, was elected president Sunday in what is being hailed as a triumph against a global populist wave that has swept the United States and Britain—one that now appears to have stopped short in parts of Western Europe.

The win marks "the first major defeat of populism on the world stage in a while, after Brexit, after [Donald] Trump, after the rise of several authoritarian, populist, nationalist leaders worldwide," says Karim Emile Bitar, director of the Institut de Relations Internationales et Strategiques, a Paris-based international relations think tank.

Not everyone is celebrating though. Some French citizens, particularly those in the working class, may see Macron's impending administration as the "further alienation of the disenfranchised in France who suffered because of globalization and are resentful of European institutions and resentful against the elites," Bitar adds.

Macron, a former investment banker now leading the social-liberal En Marche! party, soundly defeated far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who had wooed France's working class in part by brandishing Macron's elitism as a weapon against him. Le Pen also blamed chronic unemployment on, among other things, the outsourcing of French jobs abroad.

Still, Macron's win will be "well received by financial markets" as a sign of stability, Bitar says, and a "victory for the traditional French establishment."

For others, Macron's win is just the beginning in what's sure to be an arduous bout against nationalist candidates in upcoming elections—one that could require plenty of ideological gymnastics for politicians and constituents alike.

"At least half of Macron's support comes from the most rightist elements of the French Socialist Party and centrists."

Take Youssef Boussoumah as an example. A member of Parti des Indigènes de la République, a political party that advocates for social justice for French people of color, Boussoumah initially opposed Macron; he, and many like him, held Macron's brand of neoliberalism at least partially responsible for the empowerment of the extreme right in the first place. Despite those qualms, Boussoumah eventually called on communities to vote for Macron. Progressives needed more time, he argued, to implement a strategy to combat Le Pen and what they saw as a resurgence of fascism in France.

"We don't expect any improvement to our personal lives, because at least half of Macron's support comes from the most rightist elements of the French Socialist Party and centrists," Boussoumah says.

Still, unlike Le Pen, whose hostility toward immigrants had become a centerpiece of her campaign, Macron is held in higher regard by French people of color, having received the support of several French-Muslim community organizations.

But Macron may still stand to alienate progressives and communities of color in France—remember: he'll need to work together with France's center-right, many of whom notoriously support the anti-immigrant policies of Le Pen's National Front—to form a coalition in parliament.

"The [June legislative] elections will be absolutely decisive, because [Macron] at this stage [is not] assured of obtaining a parliamentary majority," Bitar says.

"It is the very first time in decades where neither of the two major traditional parties—the socialists or the neo-Gaullist right-wingers—were able to reach the second round," he adds. "So Macron would have to form a new, wide alliance, and he would also have to [form] alliances with the center-right."

Pre-election polls predicted Macron would win by a strong margin, but his campaign was beset by a last-minute computer hack targeting Macron's campaign in what appeared to have been an effort to undermine his shot at the presidency.

En Marche! confirmed on Friday that it had been hacked, following the posting of nine gigabytes of data to an anonymous sharing site. The origin and authenticity of the leaks remained unclear at the time of publication.

Among the allegations made by online hackers: that Macron has had hidden assets in the Cayman Islands. Le Pen appeared to have made similar accusations in the past, though they were seen as baseless at the time by leading French newspaper Le Monde.

Commentators in French media have speculated that the hacked information became public too late to have drastically swayed the presidential election (the hack was released mere minutes before a mandatory blackout period for any media that would sway the election). Still, what has felt for many around the world like an endless election season is not yet over, with legislative elections next month.

Such a controversy could be perfect fodder for a new crop of far-right candidates.