France has a new president. Emmanuel Macron – an independent centrist who has never held elected office – has won a resounding victory over far-right, nationalist Marine Le Pen in the most important French presidential race in decades, according to early vote counts by the French Interior Ministry.
In early returns, Macron had won an estimated 65 percent of the vote to Le Pen's nearly 35 percent, according to the French Interior Ministry. Le Pen has already called to congratulate Macron and conceded defeat to a gathering of her supporters in Paris.
Sunday's results mark a big defeat for Le Pen, a right-wing populist who had hoped to repeat the surprise victories of Donald Trump and the Brexit camp, which won last summer's referendum to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union. Macron, a political newcomer, is set to become the youngest president in modern French history. His improbable path to victory has been extraordinary in that it included dispatching France's two major political parties, the Socialists and the Republicans.
The French presidential race — which has been closely watched around the world — became the latest referendum in the West on globalization and its benefits and societal costs. The race here also focused on the deeper question of what it means to be French.
As the day began, French voters faced a stark choice. Macron, 39, is an avowed internationalist who speaks fluent English and envisions a France deeply integrated with Europe and open to the world.
The France Le Pen described to supporters in her National Front party could not be more different. Le Pen, 48, had called for a temporary ban on immigration, a referendum to leave the European Union and replacing the Euro with the Franc, the old French currency.
Among those cheering Macron's victory will be officials in Brussels who work with the European Union. The E.U. is in the early stages of negotiating the exit of the United Kingdom, which is seen as damaging to the 28-member trading block, but not fatal. Le Pen had promised as president to call a referendum to pull France out of the E.U., which would have threatened to destroy the institution.
Macron's victory is not a surprise as polls routinely showed him far ahead of Le Pen. Political observers insisted that she faced an electoral glass ceiling because they perceived her positions as too extreme to win over the majority of French voters.
The final week of the race was marked by dramatic twists and turns.
On Wednesday, the candidates faced off in a gripping televised debate that ran two and a half hours without any commercial breaks. Le Pen, who is a fiery speaker with a laser-focused message, was expected to clobber Macron, who has little political experience. Macron had served as economy minister in the outgoing, deeply unpopular government of President Francois Hollande.
Le Pen spent most of the evening on the attack, but provided few detailed solutions to France's myriad problems, which include a 23-percent youth unemployment rate and a spate of horrifying, terrorist attacks in recent two years. Both the news media and public opinion suggested Macron was the clear winner.
On Friday, hackers dumped a trove of emails from Macron's campaign on the internet in an apparent attempt to damage his candidacy just ahead of today's vote. But the French government warned both the media and citizens not to spread the hacked documents and abide by a traditional black-out ahead of the vote. The hacked documents did not appear to gain much traction and were not seen to have an effect on today's results.