<b>Newsmaker:</b> An optimist in the Elysee Palace
Nicolas Sarkozy’s marriage to Carla Bruni triggered an obsession with French presidential consorts and the private life of the first couple that shows no sign of abating. It was what outed Francois Hollande’s late-night tryst with a woman outside the Élysée Palace. Now France’s president-elect Emmanuel Macron has taken that obsession to breaking point with his story of marrying a woman 24-years older. It has spawned jokes about what she is likely to teach him now that he will be president, raised curiosity about his likely sexual orientation, and also given him some very important bragging rights.
Macron’s biographer Anne Fulda said during a BBC interview that Macron was able to sell the idea that if he could seduce a woman who was about as old as his mother, married and with three children, he could conquer France too. His emphatic win on Sunday, overcoming the pugnacious and abusive far-right challenge of Marine Le Pen, proved that his message had got through.
The obvious takeaway from the election results in which Macron tallied over 65 per cent of the vote is that he has been able to stop the far right at the gates. France, like other countries around the world, including in the advanced West, has had to deal with the anger of the have-nots, those who feel abandoned by the Establishment and left out of the wave of progress around them. In France this manifested itself in anti-capitalist anti-Liberal working class anger. Le Pen typically, and not unlike Donald Trump in the US, dipped into this anger. The election results showed that this constituency did not abandon her in the polls, that greater the levels of deprivation the more votes she got. The rust belt, sullen and on the margins, was solidly behind her all the way.
Macron was not overstating the point when he said he needed to bring everyone together. He could not have been unaware of the enormous task of providing the healing touch in a country that is also the European Union’s second largest economy. The disenchantment with the Establishment had also worked to rally voters around the Leftist hardliner Jean-Luc Melenchon, who eventually failed to qualify for the polls but with his support did manage to convey what needed to be done.

So, Macron was able to overcome both the far right and the hardline left on his way to the Élysée Palace. That would make the vote one for the centrists, which Macron is. But, it does not make him entirely an Establishment figure. He is also an outsider, a political novice never having won an election, and belonging to neither the Socialists or the Republicans. On the other hand, he could also be seen as an Establishment figure because he had been Francois Hollande’s economy minister before foraging out on his own, is from a privileged background (which Le Pen tried to exploit) and got votes from Republican party and Socialist supporters because the candidates of the two parties failed to qualify for the election.
Being a political novice would give him a clean slate to work with, without the baggage of reputation and past performance. But, it also has its disadvantages. For instance, it has not been known who would be his Prime Minister. Macron has only said that the name is in his head. As a newbie party, he also has to win elections to the French parliament.
The task ahead for Macron is enormous. For a start, En Marche!, the party he founded about a year ago, will need to now work on building trust. He is an unknown quantity and will have to do much more than being an optimist. Optimism is not an infectious quality with the French, who are better off being cynical. Add to that a growing number of Eurosceptics, anti-immigrants and others railing at the erosion of French identity. It is not known what plan Macron has to stop them from going over the edge. There is no denying that while he may have won the election, Le Pen lost. Her abusive campaign rhetoric, her reliance on unsubstantiated claims against her opponent and another Russian hacking incident which turned out to be a case of one time too many to derail an election, did her no good. France, with its heart in the right place and a proud libertarian streak would ultimately reject the hatred she spewed with a pretty sound wallop. This, by no means implies that the repair work for France can wait.
Politics seeks a stabilising figure – people identify figures who will be a check on their leaders. Brigitte Trogneux, Macron's wife, looks the most likely figure around whom the next president will feel centered. It is possible that the woman who is at the centre of a some very pungent humour targeting the new first couple will be the one to whom he might turn to in times of crisis. Macron certainly plans to do that when he says he will have an official role for her. France, then, will have a new couple to obsess over.

Ananda Majumdar