France goes to the polls again Sunday for a vote expected to give the country’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, substantial backing to push through his reformist program.
Analysts predict the French leader will win an outright majority in the country’s National Assembly despite the fact that he heads a newly formed party, established only a month ago, that is fielding an army of amateur politicians.
Having smashed the traditional party system to win the bitterly contested presidential battle four weeks ago, Macron, relatively new to politics himself, is hoping to consolidate his leadership triumph with a sympathetic parliament.
He seems almost certain to pull it off. Days before the first-round vote, pollsters believe he could gain between 380 and 415 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly. He needs to win just 289 for an absolute majority.
Edouard Lecerf, of the Kantar polling organization, said voting predictions are “quite clear.”
“There may be doubts about the size, but the question of him getting an absolute majority … well, it’s not in question,” Lecerf told journalists at the Anglo-American Press Assn of Paris.
“Macron is confirming the idea that nothing can stop him. The period immediately after a presidential election is usually one of relief and a down time, but he is maintaining the tension; he was there being the president from day one.”
Lecerf added that the French political landscape was “Emmanuel Macron and all the rest.”
“Macron has been like a fragmentation bomb that exploded into French politics in the presidential first and is continuing to explode into the parliamentary elections. This explosion has caused a huge shock wave in French politics. We are forced to look again at how we see and analyze the political landscape.”
Bruno Jeanbart of OpinionWay said if Macron’s La Republique En Marche, or LREM, party won 400 seats, it would be “an extremely large majority rarely seen since the end of World War II.” He added that Macron was proving wrong those critics who said a young politician who had never been elected and had no political experience would not be up to the presidential task.
“Voters are saying, we have to give him a chance. He met Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin and he did reasonably well, and 30% of heads of business are feeling optimistic,” Jeanbart said.
LREM is fielding candidates in 526 of France’s 577 constituencies, and 266 of them are women. Half the candidates have been picked from civil society, have never been elected and lack any political experience either at the local or national level. Their average age is 46, and there are an average of 14 candidates battling for each parliamentary seat.
Caroline Janvier, 35, who works for an association for homeless, disabled and vulnerable youngsters in the Loiret, 150 miles south of Paris, is typical of one of Macron’s newcomers. On the stump in the market town of La Chapelle-Saint-Mesmin, most local people had no idea who the would-be lawmaker was.
“I never ever imagined doing this. … Becoming a member of parliament seemed something totally inaccessible,” Janvier said, adding that what she and the others like her lack in experience, “we make up for in enthusiasm and energy.”
“Believe it or not, I’ve had some people saying shouldn’t I be at home looking after my three children, but most people have been positive and happy to see ordinary people like me standing up to represent them,” Janvier said.
Pollster Jeanbart said the great unknown question was who would be standing up to oppose Macron’s government in parliament after the June 11 and June 18 votes.
The center-right Les Republicains party is expected to finish second in the two-round legislative vote, with between 70 and 150 seats. The far-right National Front, led by Macron’s presidential rival, Marine Le Pen, is predicted to get between five and 15 seats, and the hard-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon likely will get between 20 and 35.
The Socialist Party, which formed the previous administration under Francois Hollande but finished a humiliating fifth in the first-round presidential vote, is expected to crash out with somewhere between 15 and 40 seats, according to pollsters. Political parties need at least 15 seats in the National Assembly to form an official parliamentary group and be eligible for speaking time and funding.
Macron, 39, a former economy minister in Hollande’s administration, had never even stood for election let alone won one before his May 7 presidential triumph. His movement En Marche! (“Let’s go!”), was created a year ago, but became a formal political party only after Macron’s victory.
Lecerf said it was clear Macron was attempting to position himself and France on the global scene, evidenced by his powerful hand grip with Trump during the American president’s visit to the NATO summit in Belgium last month, and his move to put Putin in his place, when during a news conference he described Kremlin-backed media as “propaganda” outlets.
The images played well with the French, who have been increasingly anxious that their country is losing its international status.
“With Macron, ordinary French people are saying ‘France is back,’ ” Lecerf said.
Willsher is a special correspondent.