Em­manuel Macron

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY JAMES MCAULEY james.mcauley@wash­post.com

was pro­jected to win a large par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity in France, with his cen­trist party tri­umph­ing at the polls.

paris — Em­manuel Macron was pro­jected to win a large par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity Sun­day, with the cen­trist party he founded lit­tle more than a year ago tri­umph­ing at the polls.

Al­though the re­sult was ex­pected af­ter an ear­lier round of vot­ing last week, the rise of Macron’s pro-Europe, pro-busi­ness party rep­re­sented a wa­ter­shed mo­ment in mod­ern French pol­i­tics. In a sys­tem that has only ever been gov­erned by the cen­ter-left or the cen­ter-right, Sun­day’s vote marked the be­gin­ning of a French “third way,” a gov­ern­ment from the cen­ter that once seemed im­pos­si­ble.

Macron’s Repub­lic on the Move party was pro­jected to win at least 355 of 577 to­tal seats in France’s Na­tional Assem­bly, ac­cord­ing to French polling in­sti­tutes. Al­though the fig­ures were not as high as ini­tially an­tic­i­pated — and voter ab­sten­tion ap­proached a record per­cent­age — the victory still rep­re­sented the emer­gence of a pow­er­ful new po­lit­i­cal force in France.

“This Sun­day, you gave a clear ma­jor­ity to the pres­i­dent of the repub­lic and to the gov­ern­ment,” said Édouard Philippe, France’s prime min­is­ter. “It will have a mis­sion: to act for France. By their vote, the French, in their great ma­jor­ity, pre­ferred hope to anger, confidence to with­drawal.”

Af­ter a year that saw land­mark vic­to­ries for pop­ulist cam­paigns in Bri­tain and the United States, Macron’s elec­tion in May was widely seen as buck­ing an in­ter­na­tional trend. And now, France has placed its trust in Macron’s am­bi­tious, as-yet-untested po­lit­i­cal pro­gram, giv­ing him a rare carte blanche to make good on his prom­ise to “re­new po­lit­i­cal life.”

For Macron’s aides, the victory of his party was it­self a re­newal, given that half its can­di­dates were women and many were mi­nori­ties in a coun­try where nei­ther group has tra­di­tion­ally been well rep­re­sented in pub­lic life.

“For the first time un­der the Fifth Repub­lic, the Na­tional Assem­bly will be pro­foundly re­newed, more di­verse, younger, with many pro­fes­sional, com­mu­nity and po­lit­i­cal back­grounds,” said Cather­ine Bar­baroux, the in­terim pres­i­dent of Repub­lic on the March, in a speech Sun­day night.

For an­a­lysts, the as­ton­ish­ing suc­cess of the newly founded party sug­gested the French peo­ple’s de­sire to give their new pres­i­dent, who calls him­self “nei­ther left nor right,” a chance.

“It re­flects a judg­ment of the first weeks in power of Em­manuel Macron,” said Do­minique Moïsi, a for­eign pol­icy ad­viser at the In­sti­tut Mon­taigne, a Paris think tank close to the Macron cam­paign.

“They elected him, but they were not sure at first,” Moïsi added. “Then they saw that he was in­car­nat­ing the repub­lic bet­ter than their pre­vi­ous pres­i­dent.”

Pre­de­ces­sor François Hol­lande, in whose ad­min­is­tra­tion Macron briefly served as econ­omy min­is­ter, was the most un­pop­u­lar head of state in mod­ern French his­tory. Fol­low­ing a con­stant string of ter­ror­ist at­tacks, stag­nant un­em­ploy­ment fig­ures and an un­re­solved mi­grant cri­sis, the ex­ec­u­tive branch plum­meted in the es­teem of many French vot­ers. In some polls, Hol­lande’s ap­proval rat­ing reached the sin­gle dig­its.

By con­trast, Moïsi said, Macron — af­ter just one month in of­fice — has as­serted him­self as a force to be reck­oned with on the world stage, pro­ject­ing the im­age of a strong and pow­er­ful France that re­calls the stub­born states­man­ship of Charles de Gaulle.

First, Macron faced off against Pres­i­dent Trump in a six-sec­ond hand­shake, and pub­licly crit­i­cized his Amer­i­can coun­ter­part’s de­ci­sion to with­draw from the Paris cli­mate ac­cords, invit­ing — in flu­ent Eng­lish — Amer­i­can cli­mate sci­en­tists and re­searchers to re­lo­cate to France. Then he launched a catch­phrase that played with Trump’s cam­paign slo­gan: “Make Our Planet Great Again.”

Sev­eral days later, Macron stood in the gilded halls of the Palace of Ver­sailles out­side Paris next to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. In­stead of mak­ing nice, the 39-year-old French pres­i­dent, the youngest in his­tory, used the sub­se­quent news con­fer­ence to blast Rus­sia’s state-owned me­dia out­lets, such as Sputnik and Rus­sia To­day, as “or­gans of in­flu­ence and pro­pa­ganda.”

But at the same time, France’s 2017 elec­tions, which con­cluded Sun­day with the sec­ond and fi­nal round of vot­ing for par­lia­men­tary can­di­dates, reached a dif­fer­ent sort of his­toric mark, as well: Never be­fore has voter ab­sten­tion been so high, at roughly 58 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to one exit poll.

That called into ques­tion the le­git­i­macy of Macron’s oth­er­wise un­prece­dented man­date.

Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader Macron crushed in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion but who ul­ti­mately won a par­lia­men­tary seat in the Pas-de-Calais re­gion, wasted no time at­tack­ing the strength of the pres­i­dent’s man­date in her Sun­day victory speech.

“Ab­sten­tion has bro­ken new records, and mistrust of the repub­lic has reached a peak,” she said. “This ab­sten­tion con­sid­er­ably weak­ens the le­git­i­macy of the new Na­tional Assem­bly. To this is added the very se­ri­ous lack of rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the cham­ber elected tonight. It is scan­dalous that a move­ment such as ours, with 6.7 mil­lion vot­ers in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, can­not ob­tain a group in the Na­tional Assem­bly.”

In­clud­ing Le Pen, eight mem­bers of the Na­tional Front were pro­jected to win par­lia­men­tary seats, an in­crease from the two the party held in the pre­vi­ous Par­lia­ment. For weeks, Macron’s op­po­nents and po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts have wor­ried that Macron’s strong ma­jor­ity will en­able him to shove changes through Par­lia­ment with lit­tle re­gard for op­po­si­tion in­put.

In Septem­ber, for in­stance, Macron is ex­pected to move a ma­jor la­bor bill through Par­lia­ment that would, among other things, give com­pa­nies the power to lengthen hours and ad­just wages on a caseby-case ba­sis, as op­posed to hav­ing to ob­serve uni­form rules. In in­ter­views with French news­pa­pers, the lead­ers of France’s most pow­er­ful la­bor unions have all warned Macron not to go too far too fast.

But if the re­mark­able rise of Macron — a po­lit­i­cal un­known just three years ago — rep­re­sented a dras­tic over­haul of France’s po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, Sun­day’s re­sults sug­gested that there will, in the end, be some sem­blance of an op­po­si­tion. Al­though each of France’s two tra­di­tional par­ties were greatly di­min­ished, the cen­ter-right Repub­li­cans took 125 seats, while the cen­ter-left So­cial­ists took 49.

On the far left, the French Com­mu­nist Party and France Un­bowed, the rad­i­cal left­ist coali­tion founded by Jean-Luc Mé­len­chon last year, were ex­pected to win 11 and 19 seats, re­spec­tively.

Like Le Pen, Mé­len­chon, another de­feated pres­i­den­tial can­di­date who rep­re­sented a po­lit­i­cal ex­treme, took aim at Macron’s man­date, es­pe­cially with re­gard to the pres­i­dent’s pro­posed mar­ket revisions.

“This bloated ma­jor­ity in the Na­tional Assem­bly does not in our eyes have the le­git­i­macy to per­pe­trate the an­tic­i­pated so­cial coup, the de­struc­tion of all pub­lic so­cial or­der by the re­peal of the la­bor law,” Mé­len­chon said.

For oth­ers, how­ever, the re­sults sug­gested a les­son that, in the po­lit­i­cal land­scape of 2017, was per­haps coun­ter­in­tu­itive: The cen­ter can hold, and the cen­ter can grow.

“It’s in­ter­est­ing that 2016-2017 has seen a dual revo­lu­tion,” Moïsi said. “In the same sense that no one could have pre­dicted the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump, no one could have pre­dicted the elec­tion of Em­manuel Macron.”

XAVIER LEOTY/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE VIA GETTY IM­AGES

Left-wing law­maker Olivier Falorni cel­e­brates the re­sults of French leg­isla­tive elec­tions in La Rochelle, France. Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron’s cen­trist Repub­lic on the Move party was pro­jected to win at least 355 of 577 leg­isla­tive seats.

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