PARIS : Pro-EU Emmanuel Macron on Sunday became France’s youngest President with a landslide victory over far-right rival Marine Le Pen, a result hailed by European Union leaders.
Wild celebrations broke out in Paris and across France as Macron, 39, bagged an overwhelming 66.06 per cent or 20.7 per cent of all votes in a closely and bitterly fought battle.
Thousands of jubilant Macron supporters waving blue, white and red tricolour flags danced and cheered outside the iconic Paris Louvre museum.
A civil servant who became a millionaire investment banker and then a government minister, Macron founded the ‘En Marche!’ movement and went on to become the President despite not having a constituency of his own and without the backing of any major party.
Anti-EU Le Pen, 48, got about 10.6 million votes in the Presidential election’s crucial runoff (33.94 per cent). This was almost double of what her more rabid father Jean-Marie won in 2002, the last time a far-right candidate made it to the runoff.
She told her National Front supporters that the new divide in France was between “globalists and patriots”. She continued to criticise Macron as an establishment candidate.
In a speech to jubilant supporters, Macron said: “Tonight you won, France won. Everyone told us it was impossible. But they don’t know France.”
The new President vowed to fight “the forces of division that undermine France”, media reports said.
He tweeted earlier: “As of this evening and for the coming five years, I am going to serve with humility, with dedication, with determination, in your name.”
Macron acknowledged the anger of many voters and pledged to protect the weakest members of the society.
“I will work to renew the links between Europe and its citizens… I will fight with all my strength against the divisions that separate us.”
Macron, who will take office on May 14, is now looking to use his popularity to lead his fledgling party in legislative elections in over a month from now.
He is expected to meet stiff resistance from Le Pen’s National Front and others.
European Union leaders heaved a sigh of relief over Le Pen’s defeat. She had threatened a “Brexit” if she won.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said: “Happy that the French chose a European future.”
European Council President Donald Tusk congratulated the French people “for choosing Liberty, Equality and Fraternity over tyranny of fake news”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “Macron’s win was a victory for a strong united Europe.”
US President Donald Trump, who had earlier praised Le Pen, congratulated Macron for the “big win” and said he looked forward to working with him.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also hailed Macron’s victory.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had openly backed Le Pen, welcomed Macron’s victory. He urged Macron to bridge “deep rifts” and work together in the face of growing threats of terrorism and violent extremism.
Macron’s triumph casts a shadow over British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit ambitions as the newly-elected President vowed to be “tough” on the UK earlier if it left the bloc.
Macron’s supporters admitted that he would face huge challenges, with a third of the electorate choosing Le Pen or abstaining or casting a blank ballot, the French and European media said.
It was clear the traditional Left had voted for Macron — not because they loved him but because they feared chaos if Le Pen took charge.
(With Inputs from IANS)