Macron’s En Marche wins solid majority – but 43% turnout reflects France’s divide
Parties that dominated politics all but wiped out by movement only 18 months old
Emmanuel Macron’s new centrist movement has won a large majority in the French parliament, according to the first official results last night.
The French president’s fledgling “neither right nor left” political movement, La République en Marche (LREM), and its smaller centrist ally, MoDem, needed 289 seats to have an absolute majority in parliament; according to initial exit polls they were on track to take about 355 seats in the 577-seat national assembly.
The clear majority will hand the new president a relatively free rein to implement his plans to change French labour laws, and overhaul unemployment benefits and pensions.
But the results were tempered by a record low turnout of about 43%. Abstention was particularly high in low-income areas, reopening the debate about France’s social divide.
Macron’s prime minister, Édouard Philippe, said: “Through this vote, the French people have shown they preferred hope to anger, optimism to pessimism, confidence to closing in on oneself.”
But, he added, “abstention is never good news for democracy”, and the low turnout meant the government had “an ardent obligation to succeed”.
Macron’s government spokesman, Christophe Castaner, who was elected to parliament, said: “The French people have given us a clear majority, but they didn’t want to give us a blank cheque. It’s a responsibility. The real victory will be in five years’ time, when things will have really changed.”
The traditional right and left parties that have dominated parliament and government for decades saw their presence in the assembly shrink significantly, confirming the redrawing of the French political landscape that began when the Socialists and the rightwing party Les Républicains were knocked out in the first round of spring’s presidential election.
The French right, which only a year ago believed the presidential and parliamentary elections were impossible to lose, was on track for its worst parliamentary result in France’s postwar Fifth Republic. Les Républicains and its allies were forecast to win about 125 seats – low, but higher than was forecast after the poor first-round showing last week.
The Socialist party was the biggest loser, expecting to shed more than 200 seats and hold only about 34 – again, better than forecast, but still a drubbing. The party’s leader, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, immediately stood down. “Tonight, the collapse of the Socialist party is beyond doubt. The president of the republic has all the powers,” he said.
The scale of Macron’s majority shows the extent to which the new president, a newcomer to party politics, has managed to transform the French political landscape in a short time. Sixteen months ago, his LREM movement did not exist. Now it is set to dominate – and win a vast injection of subsidies.
The far-right Front National, which currently has two seats in parliament, was predicted to win up to eight seats, better than its first-round showing had indicated.
The party said its leader, Marine Le Pen, had won a seat in the northern former coal-mining heartlands around HéninBeaumont in Pas-de-Calais. She will sit in parliament for the first time after four attempts in the past to win a seat.
Le Pen said: “The abstention rate considerably weakens the legitimacy of the new parliament … Even if Macron has won a strong majority, he should know that his ideas are in a minority in this country.”
The FN had been seeking to reach the 15-seat threshold to form a parliamentary group that would give it more speaking time and access to top roles within the assembly. Le Pen has been criticised for failing to capitalise on the 10.6m votes she won when she came second in the presidential election last month.
In the south-east of the country, the FN’s Gilbert Collard held off the challenge of former bullfighter Marie Sara, a candidate for Macron’s party, to keep his seat.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s new hard-left movement, La France Insoumise (France Unbowed), was projected to win about 19 seats. François Ruffin, the journalist and film-maker behind an award-winning blockbuster documentary on textile workers, tweeted that he had won a seat for the party in the northern area of the Sommes, confounding predictions in favour of his opponent from Macron’s party.
Mélenchon said the “crushing abstention rate” showed France no longer believed in the French voting system and had gone on “civic strike”. He said the abstention rate meant Macron’s party did not have any legitimacy to unpick French labour laws.
About half of the candidates for Macron’s new centrist party are virtual unknowns drawn from diverse fields of academia, business and local activism. They include a mathematician and anticorruption magistrates. The number of women in parliament is expected to rise sharply. a “vacuous political system” and “end the divorce between the people and those in charge”. But the abstention rate of roughly 57% will leave a bitter taste. It was particularly high in working-class and low-income areas and among young people, raising more questions about France’s social divide.
One of the new parliament’s first challenges will be a vote to allow Macron the power to use executive decrees to push through changes to working rules and conditions this autumn. Macron’s plans to loosen France’s extensive labour laws – including potentially setting minimum and maximum compensation awards in unfair dismissal cases – is a contentious issue. The previous Socialist government forced through labour changes by decree last year and faced street protests led by the leftwing CGT union.
“There has never been such a paradox between a high concentration of power and strong tensions and expectations in terms of changes,” Laurent Berger, head of France largest trade union, the CFDT, told the weekly Journal du Dimanche.
The question is what opposition Macron will face in the new parliament, with dissent spread among fractured and small parties. France’s upper house, the Senate, led by the right, could play a vocal role. Certain regions led by the right, for example Xavier Bertrand in northern France, will also try to position themselves as opposition forces.
It is too early to say whether Macron’s labour law changes will spark street protests, with talks planned. The pressure is on the government’s negotiation process with trade unions over the coming weeks.