DUTERTE VOWS TO WORK WITH NEW LEADER

Macron, 39, is France’s youngest president

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PARIS: Emmanuel Macron has won a resounding victory in the French presidential election but the focus will shift immediately to whether he can govern the country without the support of a traditional party.

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At 39, the pro-European Union former investment banker will become France’s youngest-ever president after crushing far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the run-off on Sunday, but he faces a formidable challenge to enact his policy program while trying to unite a fractured and demoralized country.

President Rodrigo Duterte immediately congratulated Macron and said he looked forward to working with the new French leader.

“France is one of the biggest trading partners of the Philippines in the European Union (EU), and we look forward to working with the incoming Macron administration to enhance Philippines-France bilateral relations,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said.

Macron stormed to victory in the French presidential election, roundly defeating Le Pen in a run-off vote.

Macron won 66.1 percent of the vote against 33.9 percent for Le Pen, final results from the interior ministry showed on Monday. Macron received a total of 20,753,797 votes, compared with 10,644,118 for Marine Le Pen.

Turnout was 74.62 percent. But in a sign of widespread disillusionment, one in three voters abstained or cast a blank ballot. The abstention rat e was 25.44 percent, the highest since the presidential election in 1969.

Ambitious reform

Macron has proposed an ambitious domestic reform agenda including cutting state spending, easing labor laws, boosting education in deprived areas and extending new protections to the self-employed.

But he is inexperienced, has no political party and must fashion a working parliamentary majority after legislative elections next month.

There is skepticism about Macron’s ability to win a majority with candidates from his En Marche movement – “neither of the left, nor right” – alone, meaning he might have to form a coalition.

According to a poll Monday, En Marche will receive between 24 and 26 percent of votes in legislative elections, with the Republican party on 22 percent, the National Front 21 to 22 percent, the far-left France Insoumise (France Unbowed), 13 to 15 percent and the Socialist Party 8 to 9 percent.

“In order for us to act, we will need a majority in the National Assembly,” En Marche secretary general Richard Ferrand told TF1 television, adding that only “half of the journey” had been completed.

And his economic agenda, particularly plans to relax labor regulations to fight stubbornly high unemployment, is likely to face fierce resistance from leftist opponents.

He also inherits a country still in a state of emergency following a string of Islamist-inspired attacks since 2015 that have killed more than 230 people.

Plea for unity

“I will fight with all my strength against the divisions that are undermining us,” Macron said in a solemn speech at his campaign headquarters Sunday.

A sea of jubilant supporters waving French flags celebrated outside the Louvre Museum in Paris as the extent of Macron’s victory sank in.

Western leaders largely hailed the result after the shock of Britain’s vote to leave the EU and the election of Donald Trump in the United States.

Macron reached out to Le Pen’s supporters in a plea for unity after a vicious election campaign that exposed deep economic and social divisions, as well as tensions provoked by identity and immigration.

“They voted out of anger, distress and sometimes conviction. I respect them,” he said. “I will do everything I can over the next five years to ensure that people no longer have any reason to vote for extremes,” he said.

Macron walked on to the stage to the strains of “Ode to Joy,” the anthem of the beleaguered European Union that he has promised to strengthen after Britain’s impending exit.

His 64-year-old wife Brigitte joined him on stage with her children and grandchildren.

“He’s a symbol of hope,” said Jean-Luc Songtia, a 36-year-old driver. “It’s like Obama eight years ago. It’s youth, it’s hope.”

His first ceremonial duty came on Monday when he appeared alongside outgoing Socialist President Francois Hollande in Paris to commemorate the defeat of Nazi Germany on May 8, 1945.

AFP

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