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

The Guardian - - INTERNATIONAL - Clock­wise from top left: Em­manuel Macron votes in Le Tou­quet; a polling booth in For­calquier, south-east France; Macron’s wife Brigitte (right) in Le Tou­quet with her daugh­ter Tiphaine Auz­ière; a polling sta­tion in Lyon; the Front Na­tional leader, Marine

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.

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