PARIS (CBSNewYork/CBS News/AP) — French voters elected Emmanuel Macron as the country’s youngest president ever on Sunday, defeating the far-right populist candidate Marine Le Pen with 65 percent of the vote.
As CBS2’s Brian Conybeare reported, Macron thanked his supporters — saying his country is facing an “immense task” to rebuild European unity, fix the economy, and ensure security.
French far-right candidate Marine Le Pen told her supporters she called Macron to congratulate him and wished him success with dealing with the challenges France is facing – including unemployment, immigration, and terrorism.
The resounding victory for Macron, a 39-year-old unabashedly pro-European former investment banker, strengthened France’s place as a central pillar of the European Union.
France’s outgoing president, François Hollande, also called Macron on Sunday evening to congratulate him.
A crowd of Macron supporters roared with delight at the news, jubilantly waving red, white and blue tricolor flags at a victory party outside the Louvre Museum in Paris.
The result wasn’t even close: Pollsters projected that Macron won 65 percent of the votes. Le Pen’s projected 35 percent score was lower than her polling numbers earlier in the campaign, and dashed her hopes that the populist wave which swept Donald Trump into the White House would also carry her to France’s presidential Elysee Palace.
Macron’s victory marked the third time in six months — following elections in Austria and the Netherlands — that European voters shot down far-right populists who wanted to restore borders across Europe. The election of a French president who championed European unity could strengthen the EU’s hand in its complex divorce proceedings with Britain, which voted last year to leave the bloc.
In a statement minutes after the last polls closed Sunday night, Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced Macron’s victory.
“(This) testifies to the lucidity of the voters, who rejected the deadly project of the extreme right,” he said, adding that the presidential vote showed an embrace of the EU.
Many French voters backed Macron reluctantly, not because they agreed with his politics but simply to keep out Le Pen and her far-right National Front party, which is still tainted by its long anti-Semitic and racist history.
After the most closely watched and unpredictable French presidential campaign in recent memory, many voters rejected the runoff choice altogether. Pollsters projected that French voters cast blank or spoiled ballots in record numbers Sunday.
Macron now becomes not only France’s youngest-ever president but also one of its most unlikely. Until now, modern France had been governed either by the Socialists or the conservatives — but both Macron and Le Pen upended those political traditions.
Unknown to voters before his turbulent 2014-16 tenure as France’s pro-business economy minister, Macron took a giant gamble by quitting the government of outgoing Socialist President Hollande to run as an independent in his first electoral campaign.
His startup political movement — optimistically named, “En Marche!,” or “Forward!” — caught fire in just one year, harnessing voters’ hunger for new faces and new ideas and steering France into unchartered political territory.
He has promised a France that would stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin but that also would seek to work with the Russian leader on what he says will be one of his top priorities: fighting the Islamic State group, whose extremists have claimed or inspired multiple attacks in France since 2015.
Some protesters lit fireworks and in Paris on Sunday, there was a brief bomb scare earlier in the day that forced an evacuation near the Louvre. But security was very tight.
France has been in a state of emergency since then and 50,000 security forces were used to safeguard Sunday’s vote.
Macron is expected to keep up French military operations against extremists in Iraq and Syria and Africa’s Sahel region, and maintain pressure on Russia over Ukraine and support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.
With the United States, Macron says he wants continued intelligence-sharing and cooperation at the United Nations and hopes to persuade Trump not to pull the U.S. out of a global emissions-cutting deal against climate change.
Domestically, Macron inherits a deeply troubled and divided nation of 67 million people. The French are riven by anxieties about terrorism and chronic unemployment, worried about the cultural, economic and religious impact of immigration and fear France’s ability to compete against giants like China and Google.
His proposed remedies include both economic reforms and his own infectious, upbeat optimism that France need not resign itself to continuing economic and social decline, especially as part of an EU competing together against other powers.
The campaigns ended with a hacking attack and document leak targeting Macron on Friday night. France’s government cybersecurity agency, ANSSI, is investigating the hack, which Macron’s team says was aimed at destabilizing the vote.
France’s election campaign commission said Saturday that “a significant amount of data” — and some fake information — was leaked on social networks following the hacking attack on Macron. The leaked documents appeared largely mundane, and the perpetrators remain unknown.
The timing of the leak was very strange, coming at a time when all campaigning had officially stopped and all reporting on the election was likewise supposed to have ceased, CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips reported. The blackout was supposed to be a period of reflection for voters.
Suspicion for the attack fell on the Russians and was considered a possible attempt to benefit Le Pen.
Congratulations poured in for Macron on Sunday night, including praise from President Trump.
“Congratulations to Emmanuel Macron on his big win today as the next President of France,” he tweeted. “I look very much forward to working with him!”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff congratulated Macron, tweeting in French, “Vive la France, Vive L’Europe!” — meaning “Long live France, long live Europe!”
Chief of staff Peter Altmaier said the result is “a strong signal for our common values.”
Merkel’s chief spokesman, Steffen Seibert, also tweeted, “felicitations,” or congratulations. He says it’s a victory “for a strong and united Europe.”
At the French Consulate in New York City, expats cast their ballots in the hotly-contested election that many saw as another chance for a Trump-style populist to take over.
“It’s a very positive change for France. It’s a new candidate. He’s really shifting the political game in France,” said Arnaud Berger. “And the second reason is I don’t want Marine Le Pen to be president.”
Meanwhile on a section of Smith Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn known as “Little France” for its French cafés and patisseries, there seemed to be a sense of hope and relief at the outcome.
“This guy is obviously very, very smart, so hopefully, he will do a good job,” said French expat François Wiss.
Wiss is a Paris native who has lived in New York for 13 years. He called the outcome a rejection of racism and a needed generational change.
“It’s new blood, and we have a tradition in France where politicians must be at least 70 years old,” Wiss said. “Not anymore!”
Before the results came in, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, urged support for Macron in his efforts to create jobs and undermine support for Le Pen.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)