LONDON - It is not a case of ‘Two Cheers for Democracy’ but more ‘Two Sighs for Democracy’ as Emmanuel Macron was re-elected as the 26th officeholder of the French Presidency last Sunday.
The sighs of relief pervaded the corridors of power in the liberal democratic world ranging from Berlin, Brussels to Washington DC, London and Ottawa.
The 44-year-old Macron romped home by a bigger than projected margin achieving 58.55% of the vote, with his far-right rival Marine Le Pen getting 41.45%.
To put these results in perspective, this is NOT a percentage of the popular vote as many broadcasters have erroneously claimed.
Yes 4 out of every 10 votes cast went to Le Pen.
But this must be seen in the context of voter turnout and abstentions.
For the first round, voter turnout was 73.69% and for the second round on Sunday it was even lower at 71.99% – both lower than the 2017 election.
The level of abstentions – voters who left their ballot papers blank or spoiled them – at 8.6% was the highest of any second-round vote in France since 1969.
As such almost 30% of voters did not bother to vote, a phenomenon common in democratic elections all over, including South Africa especially among the young.
Call it voter apathy because of dysfunctional politics and failed politicians, disillusionment with the ruling status quo, or a disturbing decline in political and civic culture, the scenario is the same whether in the UK, US, Europe and South Africa.
Macron has achieved what no other French president has done before, winning re-election while his En Marche party had a majority in the National Assembly.
His achievements cannot be overlooked, despite his policy shortcomings and style in his first term.
The standout themes for democracies across the world are implicit.
There is a battle between liberal democratic polity and extreme right-wing movements in the West whose underbelly is based on the ideology of white supremacy, extreme neo-liberalist economic policy where individualism is a dogma almost divinely sanctioned, riding the wave of populism.
The far right do not shirk at using the structures of the democratic process to undermine that very process preying on the hardships and sense of hopelessness of the vulnerable who have been left behind by the mainstream consensus.
Trump was a prime example, especially in the way he hijacked the soul once honourable GOP of Abraham Lincoln et al.
There are extreme right-wing parties, whether ultra nationalist, religious extremists, absolute monarchies in other parts of the world. Duarte in Philippines, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Taliban in Afghanistan, Modi in India and the Gulf monarchies – the list is growing.
The ousting of Slovenia's populist far right Premier Janez Jansa in a heavy defeat in
parliamentary elections on the same day of the French election went almost unnoticed.
The new Premier Robert Golob, a left leaning former businessman, has pledged to lead his country “back to freedom” and to “normality”.
Crucially he saw it as a “referendum on democracy” after three terms of allegedly repressive and anti-democratic rule by Jansa.
Marine Le Pen’s defeat in the French election assumes a similar importance.
A leopard does not change its spots. Marine Le Pen is a fascist! She was brought up as such by her die-hard father Jean Marie, who would not think twice of re-annexing Algeria as a French colony.
It’s vital that French democrats remain vigilant and call her out.
The way the mainstream media was treating her as if the label ‘Far Right’ was now an acceptable discourse in democratic polity, was as nauseating as their dereliction of their reporting and investigative ethos.
Her nefarious financial relations with Russian banks beholden to Putin, her Euroscepticism and Islamophobia hardly featured as much as her endless rhetoric against Macron as “the president of the rich” and the way he has allegedly “left behind the working classes” in the face of the health and economic impact of the pandemic.
There was scant probing as to how she would pay for her mountain of promises of generous state handouts including an increase in minimum monthly wages, and leaving the over-generous state pension unchanged.
The way Marine Le Pen ‘reinvented’ herself and her party from National Front to National Rally and the way she diluted her policies especially on EU membership even championing Frexit at one stage, immigration, on banning the wearing of the Muslim headscarf, the Hijab, in public places, are cynical exercises in attempted powergrabbing at any cost by propagating lies, damn lies and dubious statistics. This should be a warning to democratic polities across the world!
Macron’s first term was full of policy contradictions and shortcomings, a microcosm of the state of French politics and economics.
He comes across as aloof and even arrogant. Whether this second term assumes a greater sense of humility and dealing with the real-life cost of living crisis faced by many ordinary French people, only time will tell.
At least he has no worries about another re-election.
His En Marche movement will have to rediscover their mojo if it is going to regain its parliamentary majority in elections in June in the face of renewed onslaught by Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Far Left, the National Rally, and the traditional conservatives and socialists, which have been virtually erased from the French political map.
Democratic elections all over has exposed a demoralising decline in the quality of political and civic culture.
With the collusion of a still largely unregulated social media, the play book of traditional alliances and allegiances has dramatically changed.
Mainstream politics, driven often by self-enrichment, cronyism and the ‘revolving door syndrome’ on the one hand, and interventionist-cum-dependency ethos on the other hand, are equally to blame.
As to the youth of today, the moral ambivalence and ambiguities, and apathy with politics is merely a reflection of the lack of engagement and decline in political activism.
The reality is that they are the political leaders of the future!
Parker is an economist and writer based in London.