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French election: what you need to know

At 39, Emmanuel Macron will become France’s youngest-ever president © AFP/File / JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER

Paris, France, May 5 – French centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron won Sunday’s presidential election run-off, according to projections, after one of the most bitterly-fought campaigns in the country’s history.

Macron scored a resounding victory over his far-right rival Marine Le Pen, according to the initial estimates.

Following is a factfile on why the vote was so important, on the powers of the French presidency, and on the next steps in the political process.

– Global importance –

France wields special clout, particularly in Europe, where it is a founder member of the European Union and the second-biggest economy in the eurozone. It is also a military and diplomatic heavyweight, with a nuclear arsenal, modern armed forces and has veto power as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. It is also a member of NATO.

The campaign boiled down to a battle between Macron’s pro-European, pro-globalisation vision and Le Pen’s hostility to the EU.

The outcome thus has many ramifications for the stability of the West, which has been shaken by Britain’s vote to leave the EU and by populism in the United States, where Donald Trump ascended to the White House.

– Vast powers –

The president has extensive powers under France’s 1958 Fifth Republic, whose constitution was shaped by de Gaulle.

The head of state, who serves for a maximum of two five-year terms, has the power to dissolve the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament; appoints the prime minister and presides over the cabinet.

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He also directs foreign and defence policy, and can call a referendum without approval from parliament.

He or she can propose laws and, with the prime minister, can force them through parliament unless there is a successful no-confidence vote.

As head of the armed forces, the president can launch a military intervention without first consulting parliament and also has the power to order the use of nuclear weapons.

The president is immune from prosecution while in office and has the power to pardon convicted criminals.

– How is the president elected? –

The president is elected in a direct ballot of the country’s 47.58 million registered voters.

Sunday’s run-off came after no candidate obtained an absolute majority in the first round on April 23, leaving the two frontrunners, Macron and Le Pen, to contest the final round.

The champions of the mainstream conservative and Socialist parties, as well as the far left, were eliminated.

Every French presidential election since 1965 has gone to a second round.

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– Next steps –

The new president will take over from Socialist Francois Hollande and is expected to be sworn in by May 14.

But there will be little time to relax. Elections to the 577-seat National Assembly take place on June 11 and 18.

Humiliated in the presidential election by Macron, a political novice, the conservative Republicans party, the Socialists and far-left will be looking to the legislative elections to regroup.

The vote will determine whether the new president can forge a majority that can push through a reforming programme or whether it will be thwarted by legislative roadblocks at every turn.


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