PARIS – President Emmanuel Macron’s party, including untested novices, will be sweeping into the lower house of the French parliament, hogging a clear majority of seats after winning an overwhelming victory in Sunday’s elections and clinching the young leader’s hold on power.
Macron fulfilled his wish to disrupt politics as usual with new faces — including a farmer, a teacher and a math genius — and a new approach. But he may be getting more than he bargained for with the entry into parliament of loud voices from the ultra-left and far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, both promising to fight his plans to overhaul French labour laws, one of the touchiest subjects in France.
“Through their vote, a wide majority of the French have chosen hope over anger,” said Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, reiterating his “total” determination to work on major reforms in the coming months.
A minor reshuffle of the Cabinet, an obligatory move after parliamentary elections, is expected this week, perhaps as soon as Monday.
The May 7 election of the 39-year-old Macron, himself untested, upended France’s political landscape, a phenomenon that continued with the parliamentary victory of a party that didn’t exist 14 months ago. With the June 27 start of the new session, the novices within the ranks of Macron’s Republic on the Move! party will be learning at high-speed. Half of the candidates in the running for his party were drawn from civilian life, and half were women.
Starting Monday, many will be taking their first official steps in the corridors of power, invited to pick up keys and the blue-white-red sashes warn by elected officials, and learn their way around.
Pollsters projected Republic on the Move! and its allies could take up to about 360 of the lower chamber’s 577 seats. Official partial results confirmed the trend, showing them with 327 seats, with 33 seats yet to be counted. The party will have far more than the 289 seats needed for an absolute majority to carry out Macron’s program.
Mainstream conservatives and their allies, the closest rivals, held their ground better than expected. The Interior Ministry counted the Republicans and allied candidates with 131 seats, with 33 seats still uncounted.
The Socialist Party, which dominated the outgoing Assembly, was flattened by the unpopularity of former President Francois Hollande. With its allies, it could get fewer than 50 seats, according to projections. The stinging reality of defeat pushed party leader Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, who lost in last week’s first-round vote, to resign — and blast the Macron system “with all the power.”
The Macron steamroller effect could be blunted with the entrance into parliament of some prickly opponents.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who rivaled him for the presidency, won a seat representing her northern bastion around Henin-Beaumont with more than 58 per cent of the vote. Her National Front party was expected to place up to eight lawmakers in the lower chamber, compared to two lawmakers in the outgoing Assembly.
Le Pen said she would “fight with all necessary means the harmful projects of the government,” especially what she called Macron’s pro-European, pro-migrant policies.
“We are the only force of resistance to the dilution of France, of its social model and its identity,” Le Pen said, claiming the mainstream opposition parties were but “satellites” of the Macron power structure.
Le Pen’s nemesis, the ultra-left Jean-Luc Melenchon, vowed a “social coup d’etat,” saying Macron’s plans to reform labour laws amount to “destruction of the social order.” Unlike the National Front, Melenchon and his allies will have the required 15 lawmakers needed to form a group, a tool that provides extra funds, speaking time and other ways to weigh on policy.
Macron’s bid to ease hiring and firing through a set of measures aimed at bringing down the unemployment rate — now just below 10 per cent — is the most sensitive plan on his agenda. Unions fear it would destroy workers’ protections.
Workers unions have already criticized the labour reform and the president’s decision to skirt normal procedure to pass changes that would short-circuit extended debate and nix amendments. The measures must, however, be ratified by parliament.
Macron also wants to clean up politics to change the image of a political class dominated by career politicians, peppered with corruption and losing credibility. The new government has already presented a draft bill with new restrictions on how lawmakers operated.
Disillusion with the political class is one reason given for what is likely to be a record low participation rate that could outdo the record low in last Sunday’s first round, measured at 43 per cent — five points lower than last week.
Experts partly blamed voter fatigue following the May election of Macron, plus voter disappointment with politics.
Confusion also played a role, according to Frederic Dabi, of the IFOP polling firm. Macron’s party, which didn’t exist 14 months ago and offered novice candidates from civilian life, has drawn from left and right to fill its ranks, effectively blurring the traditional left-right political divide.
Macron’s party “vampirized” the left and right after his huge win in the presidential balloting, Dabi said on CNews TV.
Philippe Sotto in Paris contributed to this report.