Paris was grey and quiet this morning. The only signs of life were the sirens from police cars peaking in between the buildings. A few blocks away from my hotel, in Rochechouart Boulevard, people had taken to the streets. They were not celebrating the country’s new president – they were protesting him.
They call themselves the "Social Front", and they were voicing their anger at Emmanuel Macron, France’s newly christened president-elect, and the "ultra-liberal," or pro-free market, programme he wants to bring to the country.
"We don’t have a president but a CEO," shouted Mickael Wamen, a delegate from one of France’s biggest trade unions, the CGT.
In front of him was a crowd chanting "anti-capitalist" and holding banners that said "the banks steal the states," a reference to Macron’s former career working for the Rothschild bank.
The group was here to remind their elected leader that most of them didn’t vote for him on Sunday, or anyone else for that matter. More than 16 million French citizens, a third of all voters, had made their way to the polls, lined up in the queues, only to vote blank and abstain. They approved of neither Emmanuel Macron nor Marine Le Pen.
And so, abstention somehow became France’s second largest party, and now the abstainers were on the streets to tell Macron to keep this in mind while in power.
Enough of this system
What the high rate of abstention also showed is people wanted real change, but they also had lost faith in their politicians and the current system.
"I don’t like this system of ultra-liberalism," said Raphael, a Jean-Luc Melenchon supporter who didn’t know who to vote for after his candidate didn’t make it through to the second round.
"These two candidates didn’t represent us."
Melenchon was the candidate of a leftist movement called La France Insoumise, which called for a new constitution to be written. He received more than 19 percent of the vote in the first round of the election.
"The constitution was written by [Charles] de Gaulle just after the Second World War, when we had to have a strong president who had quite lot of power," said Raphael.
"But now things have changed. People are more educated than before and they need to have more power."
On the eve of the election, Raphael and his friend Gregoire joined dozens of others from a wide spectrum of ages and backgrounds at Place de la Republique. When their hopes of a new constitution were dashed at the polls, they came to write their own. A large sheet of paper hung in the square and attendees and passers-by were invited to leave messages of what they wanted their country’s hypothetical governing document to say.
The project was birthed by the social movement Nuit Debout (Up All Night) that emerged last year after its activists spent night and day protesting the reform of France’s labour laws. Since then they visited Place de la République to gather ideas from civil society and to start writing this new text.
Emmanuel Macron’s voters
Julien was travelling from France on the day of the election and cast an early vote on May 6. He told me he was torn between casting a "blank" or protest vote, but eventually decided to bite the bullet and vote Macron. The young man wasn’t convinced.
"I think Macron is a disaster but Le Pen is even worse," he said.
"Macron represents the interest of multinationals and big companies. He wants to protect the interest of the rich."
Like the vast majority of people I met in Paris and who voted for the former minister of economy under Francois Hollande’s government, Aida told me she did so only to stop Marine Le Pen.
The Parisian student was sitting with friends in La Bellevilloise, a packed cafe in one of the few arrondissements (districts) popular with the left. She admitted she still couldn’t bring herself to cast the vote for Macron, so she sent her mother to do it for her.
"I voted Benoit Hamon in the first round," she said.
Aida didn’t think the president-elect would care for the people "who suffer the most in this country," whereas Hamon, a candidate of the Socialist party, wanted to introduce universal basic income.
On Sunday night, it was mostly young people and the media who gathered to watch the election result – a result nearly everybody knew in advance, as most parties had called for a "barrage" against Marine Le Pen. Even then, the far-right runner-up managed to garner 35.5 percent of the final vote – a record for a candidate of the National Front, which was for years considered a marginalised party.
On the other hand, the 39-year-old Macron had never run in an election before, and still managed to win over 60 percent of the country’s vote. The centrist had launched his movement En Marche only a year ago after resigning from his job as economy minister.
"Le roi est mort, vive le roi"
Despite the disappointment of his critics, Emmanuel Macron woke up on Monday as France’s new president. When he is sworn in a week from now, he will succeed the most unpopular president in the country’s modern history – an unpopularity that showed the French were not only unhappy with Hollande but with the system he represented.
Under his reign, Hollande directed a very economically liberal programme, the opposite of what he promised in his own election campaign in 2012. Now many in the country will be asking if Macron will carry on with the same policies, and it is likely he will. After all, he has already started talking about reforming labour laws this summer.
The king is dead, long live the king.