Macron on course to dominate French parliament

Sylvie Corbet and John Leicester
Associated Press

Paris — French President Emmanuel Macron’s party was on course Sunday to win a crushing parliamentary majority that will clear a path for his promised program of far-reaching reforms, according to projections from the first round of legislative elections marked by widespread voter apathy and another black eye for traditional parties that monopolized power for decades.

Pollsters’ projected that as many as one-third of votes went to Macron’s camp in the first stage of the two-part election — putting his candidates comfortably ahead of all opponents going into the decisive second round of voting next Sunday for the 577 seats in the lower-house National Assembly.

Macron’s prime minister, Edouard Philippe, confidently declared Sunday night that the second round vote would give the assembly a “new face.”

“France is back,” he said.

Pollsters estimated that 400 seats or more could end up in the hands of the Macron camp — and that the opposition in parliament would be fragmented as well as small. Macron’s rivals fretted that his majority will be so large that he’ll have a free hand to govern France almost unopposed for the duration of his five-year term.

The National Front of far-right leader Marine Le Pen looked unlikely to convert her strong showing in the presidential election into a large number of legislative seats. Pollsters projected it could have 10 or fewer legislators — more than the two it had in the last parliament, but not enough to make the National Front the major opposition force Le Pen was hoping for after she advanced for the first time to the presidential runoff that Macron won on May 7.

The party’s secretary general, Nicolas Bay, warned of Macron getting “a majority so big that he will have a sort of blank check for the next five years.”

The two mainstream parties on the left and right that dominated French politics for decades were again left licking their wounds, marginalized by the swing of voter support behind Macron’s political revolution.

The former banker and economics minister, who until now had never before held elected office, gambled correctly that voters were ready for something completely new: a movement occupying the political center ground, made up largely of new faces, many of them with no political experience at all. Half of his legislative candidates are women.

The record-low turnout, however, took some shine off the achievement for Macron’s Republic on the Move! — a fledgling party fighting its first-ever election and dedicated to providing France’s youngest-ever president with the legislative majority he needs to be effective and enact his promised labor reforms and other sweeping changes.

Voter rejection of old-style, established politics — already seen in the April-May two-round presidential vote that handed power to 39-year-old Macron — was again manifest in the legislative vote.

Pollsters projected a disastrous result Sunday for the Socialists that held power in the last parliament and that the conservative Republicans could end up with fewer than 130 seats. The conservatives had 215 seats in the outgoing parliament.

For the Socialists and their allies, the damage was even worse. They had 314 seats in the last election but could end up with as few as 20 seats — and possibly no more than 35 — in the new National Assembly, pollsters projected. Projecting seat-numbers is an imprecise science in the two-round system.

Socialist Party leader Jean Christophe Cambadelis said the record-low turnout was a “sign of immense democratic fatigue.” He, too, warned that Macron’s party could end up “almost without any real opposition.”

“We would have a National Assembly with real power of control and without democratic debate to speak of.”

Another sign of voters’ rejection of the political mainstream was that far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon was, with the Communist Party, projected to see his party win as many as 20 or so seats.

Voters said polls that had predicted a large majority for Macron’s camp likely dissuaded people from turning out. They also blamed the long election cycle, with party primaries that started last year before the two rounds of presidential and then legislative voting, for turning voters off.

“I’ve voted seven times in the last few months,” voter Jean-Luc Vialla said after casting his ballot in an eerily quiet voting station in Paris where voters came in a trickle. “And the result seems written in advance. It demotivated people.”