Tough road ahead for Macron in presidential election

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Macron tipped to beat Le Pen, but he may also end up with unstable majority

PARIS Mr Emmanuel Macron's camp should perhaps keep the champagne on ice a little longer.

The independent centrist's qualification on Sunday for the run-off of France's presidential election in two weeks' time will certainly bring a sigh of relief in European capitals and financial markets, as opinion polls suggest he will beat his far-right rival Marine Le Pen with ease.

But to have a real chance of implementing the reforms that he wants, he needs a victory big enough to enlist popular figures from established parties in June's parliamentary election.

According to an almost-complete count, Mr Macron beat Ms Le Pen by 24 per cent to 22 per cent.

It may have been a huge triumph for a 39-year-old who was virtually unknown in France before becoming economy minister three years ago, and who founded his political movement only last year. But his score was also the lowest of any first-round winner since 2002.Analysts said if Mr Macron fails to win more than 60 per cent in the second round, he may find it hard to reassure a divided country that he has what it takes to reform the euro zone's second-largest economy, which is only starting to pick up speed after years of anaemic growth.

Then, in turn, he might struggle to turn his promise to transcend party divides into a working majority for his En Marche! (Onwards!) movement in the parliamentary election. Mr Macron addressed that in his victory speech, saying that "the power of the momentum behind me will be the key to my ability to lead and govern".

Two surveys conducted on Sunday put him on 64 and 62 per cent respectively for the second round.

But in Ms Le Pen, the former banker faces a formidable rival.

"It is more complicated than it looks - a new campaign is starting," said Mr Francois Miquet-Marty of pollster Viavoice.

"Ms Le Pen is going to frame this as a face-off between Mr Macron, the candidate of the globalised elite, and herself as the people's candidate," he added. "She has a line of attack that can hit the bullseye."

Endorsements from mainstream parties could also work against Mr Macron in a country where the divide between haves and the have-nots has been pushing up support for Ms Le Pen's message that only she can defend French workers.

On Sunday night, Ms Le Pen and her allies dismissed Mr Macron as the candidate of a dying establishment. "Change is obviously not going to come from the heir of (outgoing President) Francois Hollande and his disastrous mandate of failures," she said.

Mr Miquet-Marty said Mr Macron "needs a more offensive approach and to distil the message that a Macron presidency will be more peaceful than a Le Pen one".

In Mr Macron's favouris the fact that 35 per cent of voters thought he was the best candidate to put the economy on the right track, against only 20 per cent for Ms Le Pen, according to a recent Odoxa poll.

Analysts are now turning their attention beyond his expected victory in the second round to ask if he can gather the political muscle to push through policies, such as relaxing some labour laws, that are likely to run into public resistance and have defeated previous stronger administrations.

Mr Macron said his party will field candidates in all 577 constituencies, but he will welcome those from other parties who share his views. Some 50 Socialist legislators have already signed up to his movement, including some heavyweights.

"His parliamentary majority could be extremely fragmented," said political analyst Philippe Cossalter.

Mr Macron's answer is that he will prove the pundits wrong.

"They're taking the French for idiots," he said. "The French are consistent. That's why... they will give us a majority to govern and legislate." - REUTERS