Macron’s pro-EU party set for sweeping victory in French parliamentary election

Supporters of 'La République En Marche' (The Republic on the Move, LREM) party react after polls closed for the first round of the French legislative elections in Paris, France, 11 June 2017. First projections showed French President Macron's party 'La République En Marche' (The Republic on the Move, LREM) emerging as the big winner as France holds the first round of parliamentary elections on 11 June 2017, just under two months after Macron took office as French President. [Christophe Petit Tesson / Flickr]

President Emmanuel Macron’s fledgling party is set to trounce France’s traditional main parties in a parliamentary election and secure a huge majority to push through his pro-business reforms, projections after the first round showed on Sunday (11 June).

The vote delivered a further crushing blow to the Socialist and conservative parties that had alternated in power for decades until Macron’s election in May blew apart the left-right divide.

With 90% of voters accounted for, Macron’s Republic on the Move (LREM) and Modem allies had won 31.9% support, Interior Ministry results showed.

The conservative party The Republicans and allied centre-right Union of Democrats and Independents held 18.9%, the National Front 13.8% and the Socialists 7.45%.

Pollsters project Macron’s alliance could win as many as three-quarters of the seats in the lower house after next week’s second round of voting.

That would give France’s youngest leader since Napoleon a powerful mandate to make good on campaign pledges to revive France’s fortunes by cleaning up politics and easing regulations that investors say hobble the eurozone’s second-biggest economy.

“France is back,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on French TV. “Next Sunday, the National Assembly will embody the new face of our republic.”

Record low turnout

Voter turnout was a record low for parliamentary elections in the post-war Fifth Republic at 48.6%, taking the shine off Macron’s margin of victory in the first round.

Both the Socialists and the conservative Republicans urged more voters to cast their ballots in the 18 June second round, warning them against allowing too much power to be concentrated in the hands of one party.

Macron professes to be of neither right nor left. His one-year-old LREM party fielded both seasoned veterans and political novices including a former bullfighter, a fighter pilot and a former armed police commander.

“It’s a renewal of the political class,” said Jose Jeffrey, a Health Ministry administrator who voted LREM.

Projections by three pollsters of LREM’s tally after the second round ranged from 390 to 445 of the assembly’s 577 seats – potentially the biggest majority since president Charles De Gaulle’s conservatives won more than 80% of seats in 1968.

“Unprecedented setback”

Macron, a former investment banker, wants what supporters describe as as a “big bang” of economic and social reforms, including an easing of stringent labour laws and reform of an unwieldy pension system.

The pro-European leader’s programme enjoys strong support among liberal, well-educated voters in France’s big cities, but he is less popular in poorer areas where industry is in decline.

Sunday’s projections pointed to another torrid night for the two main traditional parties, which have suffered high-profile defections to Macron’s government, as well as the far-right National Front.

The Socialist Party suffered in particular. Its chief, Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, confirmed he had been eliminated from his long-held Paris seat, a symbol of his party’s stunning demise after five years in power. Benoît Hamon, its failed presidential candidate, was also headed for the exit door.

Cambadelis acknowledged that the first round marked an “unprecedented” setback for the party, set to win a paltry 30-40 seats, and the broader left.

“It is neither healthy nor desirable for a president who gathered only 24% of the vote in the first round of the presidentials and who was elected in the second round only by the rejection of the extreme right to benefit from a monopoly of national representation,” Cambadelis said.

François Baroin, who ran the campaign of conservative party The Republicans, echoed these sentiments, saying political power should not be concentrated in the hands of one party and urging supporters to turn out on 18 June for the decisive second round.

Like other senior politicians from established parties not connected with Macron’s meteoric rise to power, Baroin also bemoaned the low turnout, which at around 49% was the lowest first round showing since the Fifth Republic was born in 1958.

“Today fewer than half of French people expressed a preference,” he said. “This record level of abstention… bears witness to the continuing fractures in French society… They are neither forgotten nor wiped away.”

Le Pen’s far-right surge loses momentum

National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who led the voting in her northern constituency, called the huge abstention rate “catastrophic” and urged supporters to turn out in a week’s time.

Le Pen won 10.7 million votes as she lost to Emmanuel Macron last month, but her party’s first-round result on Sunday saw it falling way short of its aim of getting a stronger voice in parliament.

Pollsters projected her party, which is still reeling from her disappointing showing in the presidential run-off vote against Macron, will next week win just a small handful of seats – perhaps as few as one.

Le Pen blamed what she called a skewed electoral system that encouraged a record low turnout after projections showed that FN candidates scored between 13 and 14% of the vote.

The FN leader is currently a lawmaker in the European Parliament but is hoping to win a legislative seat in France for the first time.

She at least made it easily into the run-off in the northern town of Henin-Beaumont against 12 rivals and will fight a political novice from Macron’s party, Anne Roquet.

Among the LREM political newcomers who went through to second round were his key ministers and a retired bullfighter.