Sunday, June 18, 2017

Macron’s Party and Allies Win Majority in French Parliamentary Elections

Macron’s Party and Allies Win Majority in French Parliamentary Elections

Waiting to cast ballots in a polling station in Marseille, France, on Sunday during the final round of parliamentary elections. Credit Claude Paris/Associated Press
PARIS — President Emmanuel Macron of France won a crucial stamp of approval on Sunday as voters gave him and his allies a decisive majority in parliamentary elections, but a record-low turnout cast a shadow on his victory, pointing to the hurdles he will face as he seeks to revive the country’s economy and confidence.
As the polls closed at 8 p.m., pollsters projected that Mr. Macron’s party, La République En Marche (The Republic on the Move) and its allies had won at least 355 seats in the 577-member National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament.
Mr. Macron, a relative political newcomer who was elected on May 7, had called for a strong mandate to advance his legislative agenda, including plans to loosen France’s restrictive labor laws. Voters swept in many first-time candidates put forward by Mr. Macron’s party, including a record number of women and candidates of Arab or African ancestry.
For the two mainstream parties, the outcome was a bleak repudiation: The center-right Republicans were relegated to a distant second place, with an estimated 125 members for its bloc in Parliament, while the Socialists, who had a majority in the last election, saw their bloc reduced to an estimated 49 seats. Parties on both the far left and the far right won more seats than analysts had projected in the past week, but fewer than what had been projected immediately after their strong showings in the presidential election.

Mr. Macron now “has all the power,” said Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, who resigned on Sunday as head of the Socialist Party, which with its allies won both the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2012, only to see their popularity erode under the leadership of Mr. Macron’s predecessor, François Hollande.

A top Republican official, François Baroin, wished Mr. Macron “good luck” but said his party would continue to be heard, as the largest opposition party.

The National Assembly in Paris. Credit Ian Langsdon/European Pressphoto Agency

However, the record-low turnout — perhaps as low as 40 to 45 percent, according to early estimates — dimmed Mr. Macron’s victory and pointed to the tentative, even ambivalent, view of many French citizens toward his promises to transform France.
The leader of the far-left France Unbowed party, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, said the abstention level was “crushing,” adding, “Our people have entered into a form of civic general strike.”
He suggested that with such a high number of people not voting, the government was robbed of its claim to legitimacy.

Election posters outside a polling station during the first round of the French legislative elections in Paris last week. Credit Ian Langsdon/European Pressphoto Agency

A majority of eligible voters did not show up, perhaps because they thought Mr. Macron’s candidates did not need their support or, more worryingly for Mr. Macron, because they were unwilling to give him their endorsement. Many might have been tired of voting, having been called to the polls not only for the two rounds of the presidential election and then two rounds of voting for Parliament, but also for primary elections on the left and the right ahead of the presidential election.
Nonetheless, the overall picture for Mr. Macron was a positive one.
“A year ago, no one could have imagined such a political renewal,” Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said, adding: “Abstention is never good news for democracy. The government interprets it as a strong obligation to succeed.”
Mr. Macron, 39, has seemed like a golden child of Western liberal democracy of late, with his stunning rise to power in little more than a year and his seeming unerring sense of how to exercise it in his first weeks in office.

However, Sunday’s abstention rate suggests that he has yet to convince many French voters that his ideas and legislative program will make their lives better. The high abstention rate could make it easy for opponents like Mr. Mélenchon to attack any efforts to enact fundamental changes in France’s social contract with workers. Union-led street protests, a longtime staple of French politics, could break out if Mr. Macron tries, as he has promised, to fast-track part of his legislative program.

President Emmanuel Macron needs a majority in the National Assembly to push through his agenda. Credit Pool photo by Martin Bureau

Still, with at least an estimated 355 representatives elected on the ballot of La République En Marche or its close ally, the Democratic Movement, Mr. Macron could justifiably say that a majority of those who voted chose his program of loosening France’s restrictive labor laws and making it easier for businesses to hire and fire employees, and also reducing worker protections with the goal of creating more jobs.
The National Assembly, France’s lower and more powerful house of Parliament, will lose little time getting to work and — if all unfolds as Mr. Macron hopes — the steps will begin to change France.
Although the Parliament will not vote on key measures in its first few weeks in office, it will start discussing the measures later this summer, setting the stage for rapid passage in the early fall, including the contentious overhaul of France’s labor laws.
Also on tap for completion in the next four months is a potentially controversial codification in common law of some measures in the current state of emergency, such as the ability to conduct house raids or place people under house arrest without the prior authorization of a judge. A much publicized — though less controversial — ethics law for politicians is also expected.
In Sunday’s voting, Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front party saw a precipitous drop in support, winning an estimated four to eight seats, although Ms. Le Pen herself won her race for a seat in a district of northern France. Just two months ago in the immediate aftermath of the first round of the presidential election, analysts had predicted that the party might obtain more than 50 seats.

Marine Le Pen, the head of the far-right National Front, at a rally in Calais this month. Credit Philippe Huguen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. Mélenchon, the far-left leader, won his seat in a district in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille. His party was expected to take only 20 to 30 seats, fewer than might have been expected after Mr. Mélenchon’s strong showing in the presidential election, but enough to challenge the Socialists for the status as the main left-wing opposition party.
Only the mainstream right party, the Republicans, and its allies managed to maintain a significant presence in Parliament, with an estimated 90 to 130 seats.

A polling station in Lyon during the first round of of legislative elections. Credit Laurent Cipriani/Associated Press