The first ever election under the state of emergency; the collapse of traditional parties; the emergence of political neophytes; the ideological schisms along sectional lines - the recent French presidential elections were unlike anything seen in the modern French political history.

The French political process, like most western democracies, had conventionally been dominated by two major parties - Republicans on the right and socialists on the left. François Fillon, the center-right Republican, ran on conventional conservative agenda of economic liberalism and social illiberalism. Contrarily, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, an ex-Trotskyist, led a hard-left campaign against economic globalization. The result, however, has thrown the establishment parties out of the race. In the first round of French Elections, Emmanuel Macron (leader of En Marche!) has secured 24.1 percent of the vote followed by Marine Le Pen, of National Front, with 21.3 percent.

These two front-runners have utterly antithetical worldviews. Marine Le Pen is the French version of Donald Trump who appeals to France’s ultra-conservative base. Her rhetoric, ‘‘France is for French’’ is rooted in her deep-seated and long held xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and holocaust denialism - basically everything that she considers to be ‘un-French’.  Her rallying cry is to fight the “twin totalitarianisms” of Islamism and globalization.

On the contrary, Macron is a true globalist. He has never held an elected office before which allows him to brand himself as an ‘outsider’. In economic policy, he is an ultra-centrist, though the French center is markedly to the left if compared with American standards. The defining feature of his campaign, however, is an inclusive and cosmopolitan vision of society. A stronger European Union lay at the heart of this project.

Macron is almost certainly projected to win the French Presidency. Mainstream candidates have thrown their support behind Macron to stop National Front’s fascism. If Le Pen still manages to win the Presidency, it will be one of the biggest upsets in modern political history. Nevertheless, if the worst does come true, it would have catastrophic effect for the world. Le Pen’s apocalyptic rhetoric is based on nativist ideals. A Le Pen Presidency would turn France into a protectionist state, a forbidden territory for ‘foreigners’ and withdraw from European Union and NATO. The only logical conclusion of another ‘Frexit’ would be the dismantling of the EU itself, which would prove to be a death blow to the liberal democratic order.

We have good reasons to believe, however, that the worst would be averted. Europeans are celebrating over Macron’s projected lead, arguing that Macron’s win would impede the rising wave of right-wing populism that is sweeping across the European continent. This claim is anything but true. At worst, Macron’s win could even end up legitimizing and strengthening far-right’s rhetoric. First, the voting patterns neatly cut across geographical lines. Le Pen swayed election in her favour overwhelmingly in northeast part of the country which represents France’s “Rust Belt”- former manufacturing areas that have been decaying due to the forces of globalization. The south also heavily voted for Le Pen because of its deep rooted traditional French identity. Macron drew support largely from urban-educated areas. This means that partisan alignment has translated into institutionalized sectionalism.

Second, the French legislative elections are scheduled to take place in June 2017. Macron’s party, En Marche!, was founded only last year to support his candidacy. So far, the party has revealed only a handful of candidates that would contest the elections for 15th National Assembly of the French Fifth Republic. As such, the party is considerably less organised on the grassroots than the National Front. If the latter sweeps the legislative election, or at least secures considerable membership- a very likely scenario, Macron’s pluralistic agenda would die at the hands of legislature.

Third, thwarting right-wing populism would require humanizing the forces of globalization, particularly through the EU, to address the legitimate grievances of people including social inequalities, environmental sustainability and security. Simply embodying the liberal consensus in the face of an ‘outsider’ would not suffice. Macron’s strategy is to lead France in the Anglo-American direction, which is counter-intuitive given that the Anglo-American world itself is heading in the other direction. If Macron fails to deliver this time, Le Pen would become indispensable in the next electoral cycle.

The fact that three of the four mainstream candidates in this election rejected the liberal consensus is indicative that people no longer trust free markets. Far-right populism cannot simply be defeated at electoral ballots. The fight will be incremental and it cannot be won by changing faces in the Élysée Palace.

This could be the last chance for the globalists to deliver on their promises, otherwise, populists will be ‘En Marche’ to victory and destroy the liberal democratic order for good.