France and South Korea: Newest World Leaders

In mid-May, the world got two new presidents of major countries. In France, the heated battle between liberal-centrist Emmanuel Macron and the far right Front National’s Marine Le Pen was settled, with Macron coming out the victor. On the other end of Eurasia, South Korea elected the liberal Moon Jae-in as its new president.

The election of Mr. Macron came as the result of a runoff election in early May. The French presidential election began with four candidates: Mr. Macron, Ms. Le Pen, conservative ex-Prime Minister François Fillon, and radical leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon. When no candidate secured the necessary 50% of the vote for a win in the first round, a runoff election was scheduled between the two most popular candidates, Mr. Macron and Ms. Le Pen. Mr. Macron won with 66.1% of the vote, to Ms. Le Pen’s 33.9%.

Although ultimately the loser of the presidential race, Marine Le Pen was certainly the most talked about candidate in the French presidential election. Leading the same party as her father, the Front Nacional, she ran on a platform of hyper-nationalism and anti-globalization, going so far as to threaten to follow in the steps of the United Kingdom and withdraw France from the European Union. Her rise to power has been linked to the wave of so-called “populist” movements occurring across the globe in recent years. This includes the election of Donald Trump as the U.S. president, as well as the Brexit decision to leave the EU.

The winner of the election, Macron is a real anomaly of a politician. His party, En Marche, is barely over a year old, formed a mere 13 months ago. In addition to being the head of an extremely young party, Macron himself wins the award of being the youngest French head of state since the fifth republic was established by Charles de Gaulle after WWII. In fact, the last time there was a French head of state this young was in the beginning of the 19th century, when Sir Napoleon Bonaparte himself was compensating for his height through wars across Europe.

Macron is a self-described liberal-centrist. He is openly and vocally in support of globalization. This is in strong contrast to Le Pen, as well as many other world leaders to come to power in recent months, such as the United State’s Donald Trump.

His goals have an interesting range along the political spectrum. His self-identification as a centrist leftist is rather fitting. His policies champion many leftist causes, such as promoting renewable resources, while also being surprisingly pro-business.

For instance, Mr. Macron has stated that he plans to strengthen ties with the EU and tighten integration between Eurozone countries. He also plans to make a $53 billion public investment, which will cover job training and a shift towards renewable energy. At the same time, he has many pro-business policies which he plans to implement, such as cutting as many as 120,000 public sector jobs to close the deficit. And even more importantly, he plans to cut France’s corporate tax rate from 33% to 25%.

Although he won with impressive numbers, prominent pundits have noted that many voted for him not because of what he was, but rather what he wasn’t – namely that he was not his opponent, Marine Le Pen. Being swept into office, partly, by a wave of voters who are just content that the opposition was kept out isn’t the most promising way to begin a presidency. But if his sharp wit and vigorous spirit can endure, perhaps he’ll make a great leader yet.

The election of Moon Jae-in as South Korea’s new president came after its former president, Park Geun-hye, was forced out of office on corruption charges. Although she denies the charges, she never the less was impeached and forced to trade her presidential office for a jail cell.

Her successor, Moon Jae-in, is a self-described liberal. He has made several campaign promises, including to reform South Korea’s chaebols. The chaebol is a large, often family-owned conglomerate. There are a handful of these in South Korea which dominate the country’s economy. The largest chaebol, Samsung, had revenues equal to 17% of the South Korean GDP in 2013.

One of his more exotic claims is that he is open to talks with North Korea. Could a potential uniting of the Korean Peninsula be in the works in the next several years? Only time will tell. Kim Jong Un of North Korea is likely to remain unreceptive to this idea, but with the whirlwind of strange politics sweeping the globe, anything is possible.