Monday Jun 19, 2017
PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron´s trailblazing centrist party on Monday savoured an election victory that gave it a strong majority in parliament, redrawing the country´s political map and giving the young leader a strong hand to implement business-friendly reforms.
Although it fell short of a predicted landslide, Macron´s Republique en Marche (Republic on the Move, REM) and its allies won 350 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly after the second round of an election that eliminated many high-profile figures.
The party Macron founded just 14 months ago has caused a political earthquake even if the winning score was considerably lower than the 470 seats predicted by some pre-vote surveys.
It gives the 39-year-old president one of France´s biggest post-war majorities in what editorialist Alexis Brezet of the right-leaning daily Le Figaro called a "revolution".
"A profoundly renewed political generation takes over the reins of legislative power," he wrote.
"In the history of our institutions, it´s a revolution without precedent since 1958," the start of France´s Fifth Republic.
Macron´s confident start at home, where he has concentrated on trying to restore the lost prestige of the president, and his bold action on the international stage has inspired a host of positive headlines.
REM´s comfortable lower house majority will give Macron a free hand to pursue his agenda of loosening labour laws to try to boost employment, to overhaul France´s social security system and to breathe new life into the European Union.
But detractors point to a record low turnout of just under 44 percent in Sunday´s polling, saying Macron cannot claim to enjoy a deep vein of support.
Radical left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon said of the stayaway: "The French people are now engaged in a sort of civic general strike."
REM routed the Socialists and heavily defeated the rightwing Republicans, while the far-right National Front (FN) of Marine Le Pen -- whom Macron defeated in the presidential run-off on May 7 -- had a disappointing night.
Le Pen entered parliament for the first time in her career in one of eight seats won by the FN, but the party fell well short of its 15-seat target.
Le Pen´s victory in the northern former coalmining town of Henin-Beaumont was a rare bright spot for her nationalist and anti-EU party that was once hoping to emerge as the principal opposition to Macron.
She insisted the FN still had a key role to play, saying: "We are the only force of resistance to the watering down of France, of its social model and its identity."
The Socialists (PS) were the biggest losers, punished for the high unemployment, social unrest and lost national confidence that marked their five years in power.
The party of Macron´s predecessor Francois Hollande shed more than 250 seats, obtaining just 29.
"The rout of the Socialist Party is undeniable," said PS leader Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, who lost his seat in the first round and resigned his position on Sunday night.
Former Socialist prime minister Manuel Valls narrowly retained his seat after a dogfight with a hard-left candidate in the Paris suburbs who demanded a recount amid noisy protests.
But former education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem -- a one-time Socialist star -- was beaten by an REM candidate in the central city of Lyon, while former labour minister Myriam El Khomri lost to Macron-supporting candidate Pierre-Yves Bournazel in the capital.
The Republicans and their allies fared better than the Socialists, hanging on to 131 seats, down from over 200 in the last parliament, and remain the main opposition party.
The conservative party had enough seats to "defend its convictions", said the party´s leader for the elections, Francois Baroin, calling on Macron to heed the record low turnout, which he said sent "a message".
Only 140 incumbents held onto their seats, and the new assembly will be characterised by younger, more ethnically diverse lawmakers and 223 women -- a record number.
Around half of REM´s candidates are virtual unknowns drawn from diverse fields of academia, business or local activism.
They include 27-year-old Rwandan orphan Herve Berville, who cruised to victory in the western region of Brittany, and woman bullfighter Marie Sara, who came within 100 votes of unseating senior FN figure Gilbert Collard in southern France.
The other half of the party is a mix of centrists and moderate left- and right-wing politicians drawn from established parties including ally MoDem.
Melenchon´s hard-left France Unbowed won 17 seats as it also struggled to maintain the momentum it had during the presidential election.
Melenchon won a seat in the southern city of Marseille on a pledge to lead resistance to Macron´s radical labour market reforms.