All hail Emmanuel Macron, the youngest ever French president-elect, head of a daring progressive movement that’s sweeping his troubled nation. Or is it?
The 39-year-old centrist just elected to the French presidency beat his far-right opponent, Marine Le Pen, by a wider margin than originally projected, with 65% of the vote. But already his victory is looking rather damp. Voter turnout for the election is estimated to be the lowest in almost half a century.
Worse still, more people than ever showed up to the ballot box just to register their despair with the choices on offer. Rather than staying at home and simply abstaining, more than 4 million voters got in line to emphatically say “no.” Estimates currently suggest 9% of the votes cast were blank or spoiled ballots—the highest share on record for the Fifth Republic (founded 1958).
The ballot blanc has a long history going back to the French revolution. Now, there is a campaign to have the so-called white votes, which act as votes for nobody, counted towards the share of the election vote. At the moment, they only count towards the turnout, but are otherwise symbolic in that they can’t eat into the candidates’ vote share.
Macron will now need to bring France together after a bitter election battle that alienated large swaths of voters. His one-year-old centrist party has been popular with urban progressives, but failed to reel in many others from the left and the right of France’s ailing political system.
Despite fears to the contrary, Le Pen’s brand of far-right populism also wasn’t the catch-all solution for voters fed up with the status quo.