The Straits Times says

France's triumph of hope over fear

The decisive victory of centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, in the French presidential election on Sunday, is a vote for political reason and economic progress over the siren calls of nationalism and protectionism. The latter voices were represented amply by the far-right National Front. Though defeated in the run-off election, its candidate, Ms Marine Le Pen, revealed how far the once marginal party has come. Its performance was a stinging indictment of leftist and centrist parties for having failed to keep the far right at bay electorally. It would have been a disaster had the French people abjured their revolutionary heritage to underwrite the far right's claim to represent the political heart and social soul of France.

The French have demonstrated that they remain rooted in a confident and open republicanism. That will be of crucial importance to the European Union (EU), which would have been damaged irreversibly had France, under Ms Le Pen's leadership, followed Britain's lead in leaving. By contrast, Mr Macron is a committed European. Being also a globalist by conviction, his victory strengthens the EU as an indispensable force of globalisation. After the recent vote in the Netherlands - which also rejected a right-wing threat to the centrist status quo - the French election will reassure those who fear for the future of Europe. Mr Macron's margin of victory is testament to the breadth of the cosmopolitan heartland of France.

The new president will have to govern without a party - his is a movement - in a political system where Parliament enjoys considerable powers. However, the presidential election revealed a rejection of established political parties, which should now feel chastened enough to at least not obstruct the results of his popular mandate. Also, the presidency is an agenda-setting institution whose political legitimacy extends beyond its partisan nature. This is a golden chance for France to move ahead after a bruising, divisive election.

Tackling unemployment - including high youth unemployment - should take centre stage in Mr Macron's plans. Imposing fiduciary discipline on the public-sector budget is another priority. At the same time, he cannot afford to defer taming the threat of home-grown terror - a pressing concern in other countries too. Illegal immigration remains a particular challenge, but immigrants as a whole must be socialised better to act in consonance with France's stringently secular and inclusively democratic values.

The EU will continue to underpin France's global influence, but Mr Macron should not just focus on appealing to the instincts of the intelligentsia and the young. He must also reach out to those who feel threatened by the power of globalisation. His centrist platform offers him an opportunity to strengthen national identity and keep out forces that prey on insecurity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2017, with the headline 'France's triumph of hope over fear'. Print Edition | Subscribe