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Centrist Emmanuel Macron Wins French Presidential Election

May 8, 2017
Originally published on May 8, 2017 3:34 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Any new president-elect has a lot to deal with, but Emmanuel Macron, the winner of yesterday's election in France, has a unique challenge. His political movement isn't even a real party yet. He doesn't have much experience in government, and he has to unite a deeply divided country. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley starts our coverage from Paris.

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ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: France when the French turned on their televisions this morning, they saw their young president-elect taking part in a ceremony marking the 72nd anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany.

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UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing in French).

BEARDSLEY: Macron and sitting President Francois Hollande laid a wreath together on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe and later joined a military chorus singing the French national anthem, "La Marseillaise." The symbolism of passing the torch to a whole new generation was powerful. For many young French people, like 29-year-old piano teacher Aurelien Parent Koenig, it's as if France is turning a page.

AURELIEN PARENT KOENIG: I feel excited because he's young, because I think he's someone who listens a lot, and he's someone who's not obviously from any of the two major parties that have been in the center of the political life for the past 50 years.

BEARDSLEY: Though Marine Le Pen was defeated, Parent Koenig says he's still nervous because she doubled her score from the last presidential election five years ago. Where will all those people go, he asks. It's something President-elect Macron is thinking about, too. He gave a somber acceptance speech after being elected.

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EMMANUEL MACRON: (Through interpreter) I know there is anger, anxiety and doubt that pushed many people to vote for the extremes. It is now my responsibility to hear them. I will protect the most fragile, fight inequality and assure your security. I will fight the divisions that bring us down as a country.

BEARDSLEY: Macron will not have long to savor his victory. If he wants to put his policies in place, he has to win a majority in the national legislature, and elections are in one month. Of 577 seats, Macron's party holds none. French TV political commentator Thierry Arnaud summed up how hard it's going to be.

THIERRY ARNAUD: (Through interpreter) He needs 289 seats for a majority, and today they officially have only 14 candidates. He's got to move fast to name people, and they've got to start campaigning because let's face it; most of them will be completely unknown.

BEARDSLEY: Charles Lichfield is an analyst with the Eurasia Group. He says though it looks insurmountable, French voters do tend to give presidents they elect a majority in parliament.

CHARLES LICHFIELD: There's a feeling that if you've elected a president, you might as well allow them to govern.

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RICHARD FERRAND: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Tonight, Macron's campaign manager, Richard Ferrand, said a list of the party's parliamentary candidates would be released on Thursday. And in keeping with the party's grassroots principles, he said half would be regular citizens, not politicians, and 50 percent would be women.

As France wrangles over the details of how Macron will govern, the country's European allies are breathing a sigh of relief. Claudia Major with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs says it was not just a French election.

CLAUDIA MAJOR: Because it was not only about France. It was also about Franco-German relations, and it was about the future of Europe. So for Germany, it's important to know there is somebody we can work with. We can relaunch the Franco-German engine for Europe, and we can get things done.

BEARDSLEY: That certainly seems to be one of Macron's priorities. After he is sworn in as president next Sunday, Macron says his first trip will be to visit German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE OF BEETHOVEN'S "ODE TO JOY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.