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Macron’s Centrist Party Scores Big Wins In French Legislative Elections

Emmanuel Macron

Just over a month after decisively defeating Marine Le Pen in the second round of the French Presidential election, French President Emmanuel Macron managed to put together a slate of candidates that scored overwhelming wins in the first round of legislative elections that seem to guarantee that Macron will be able to enact most of his agenda:

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron and his party took a commanding lead in the first round of France’s legislative elections Sunday, with the potential to win an absolute majority.

In a once-unimaginable scenario, Macron’s centrist party — established little more than a year ago — was projected to win between 390 and 430 of the French Parliament’s 577 seats, according to an Ipsos-Sopra analysis. In a political landscape defined for decades by the well-oiled machines of traditional center-left and center-right parties, the rise of Macron’s Republic on the Move represented a watershed development.

The victory of Macron in May’s presidential election was the first time a president who did not belong to either of those traditional parties won the Elysee Palace. If Sunday’s parliamentary results hold up after a second and final round of voting next Sunday, France will be run by both a new president and a new party. Macron, who has long promised a “renewal of political life,” will have successfully persuaded voters to give him relatively free rein in the attempt.

But turnout was at a record low level, and that could cloud Macron’s mandate. Only 49 percent of registered voters cast their ballots, according to the Ipsos-Sopra analysis. Participation in parliamentary elections has typically been significantly higher, mostly between 60 and 80 percent.

Macron’s political opponents were quick to emphasize the unusually high abstention figures.”I am particularly concerned about the fact that 1 French person out of 2 did not vote,” Valérie Pécresse, the president of the ­center-right Republicans party in the Ile-de-France region, told Le Monde newspaper. “We weaken Parliament, which is a democratic counter-power. And we take the risk of a single party, a single thought, a single program.”

“I am particularly concerned about the fact that 1 French person out of 2 did not vote,” Valérie Pécresse, the president of the ­center-right Republicans party in the Ile-de-France region, told Le Monde newspaper. “We weaken Parliament, which is a democratic counter-power. And we take the risk of a single party, a single thought, a single program.”

The Republicans, one of the two parties that controlled France until 2017, came in second, winning between 85 and 125 seats, according to early projections. But the Socialists, once a bedrock of French and European political life, were projected to win only between 20 and 35 seats. For the historic party of François Mitterrand, that would probably mean a devastating loss of more than 200 seats.

“The tornado was too strong, the two votes too close,” Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, the first secretary of the French Socialist party, said in a statement Sunday night. The “tornado” he referred to was that of Macron’s victory in the general election, in which some Socialist ministers abandoned their own party and supported instead the newfound party of the outsider candidate, himself a onetime Socialist minister.

When Macron won the French presidency last month in a landslide, it did not necessarily follow that the new leader — the youngest in modern French history, who has promised a slew of broad, sweeping reforms, many in the notoriously difficult labor sector — would carry any kind of lead in the two rounds of legislative elections now underway.

In other news, the National Front Party, led by Marine Le Pen, once again fell far short of success and is looking at small representation in the legislature:

PARIS — France’s far-right National Front is projected to win no more than five seats in the lower house of parliament, polls showed after the first round of voting on Sunday, failing to capitalise again on widespread frustration at mainstream parties.

It was the second setback for the anti-establishment party in barely a month after its leader Marine Le Pen reached the presidential run-off vote only to be soundly beaten by Emmanuel Macron and his bid to renew French politics from the centre.

Her defeat in May brought huge relief to European allies who had feared another populist upheaval to follow Britain’s Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president, and disappointment to the party faithful.

They then set their sights on winning enough parliamentary seats to form a parliamentary group and with it more voice in the chamber. Fifteen are required, but that too now looks very unlikely.

With most first round votes counted, the National Front was on course to win about 13.5 percent of votes.

That would barely be above the party’s score in the legislative elections five years ago and far behind its performances in regional, European and presidential ballots over the past three years.

Worse still, projections showed it possibly winning as few as just one seat in the 577-seat chamber in next week’s second round.

Le Pen, herself in a commanding position to be elected to the national parliament for the first time after winning 46 percent of first round votes, put on a brave face, urging voters not to abstain next week.

“A strong mobilisation (on June 18) could allow us to win several constituencies,” she said. “Patriotic voters must … turn out en masse to polling stations next Sunday.”

Other senior Front officials, including her deputy Florian Philippot and secretary general Nicolas Bay, admitted to being “disappointed”.

No parliamentary group means little speaking time in the lower house and next to zero chance of chairing a committee.

Jean-Yves Camus, a researcher who specialises in the far-right, said turnout at parliamentary elections among the party’s core working class support base was traditionally low and an obstacle the party had once again failed to surmount.

“Working class voters vote less in parliamentary elections than in presidential ones,” he said. “There is also the fact that a majority for Macron’s party seemed a foregone conclusion and people are just tired of an election campaign that has been going on for months.”

Despite the poor performance, Le Pen’s control over the party remained too strong for any challenge to her leadership in the near future, he said, especially after her niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen stepped away from politics.

The fact that Macron has been able to pull together a centrist political party in less than a year and manage to win not just a Presidential election but also what appears to be sufficient power in the legislature to control the agenda going forward is actually quite impressive. First and foremost, of course, there’s the point that he was able to essentially go over the heads of France’s major established political parties seems to suggest the fact that the French public has become disillusioned with politics as usual, much like recent election results in the United States and the United Kingdom, seems to indicate that voters there are as frustrated with the status quo as voters in other parts of the world. At the same time, though, Macron managed to do this without appealing to the extreme left or the extreme right, but rather by pushing to forge a centrist movement built around the idea of actually getting things done. He’s also managed to accomplish this feat without provoking the kind of seeming instability in the political system that we’re presently seeing in the United States and If he succeeds in that regard, he will likely become one of the strongest leaders in Europe along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with whom he quickly seems to have developed a strong working relationship in the light of the instability that both Brexit and Donald Trump have created in Europe.

An additional encouraging sign from yesterday’s legislative election is the continued failure of the National Front to capture any success at the ballot box, something that has happened to far-right parties across Europe in other elections this year in nations such as The Netherlands and Austria. In the light of the terror attacks that have rocked France, Belgium, and the United Kingdom since 2014 and the streams of refugees from civil war in Syria and instability in Northern Africa, there had been some fear that we’d see voters flock to political parties that held anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim viewpoints. Outside of a few isolated examples, that has not been the case, and the success of Macron’s centrist politics in France suggests that the anti-immigrant zeal that many feared from the increase in terror attacks will not materialize.

Going forward, of course, much will depend on Macron’s ability to solve some of France’s long-term problems such as a persistently high unemployment rate, especially among the young. To a large degree, it was the state of the economy that appears to have been the undoing of former President Francois Hollande and the same thing could happen to Macron if he is unable to fix the problems facing France’s economy. For the time being, though, it looks as though he’ll have plenty of political power to enact his agenda, so at least he’ll have the chance to make the changes the voters seemed to support by bcacking him in last month’s election.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. HarvardLaw92 says:

    OT, but the DC and Maryland Attorneys General filed a federal lawsuit today against Trump, based on the premise that foreign payments to his businesses violate the emoluments clause.

    We live in interesting times :-)

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  2. michael reynolds says:

    I expect 4 years from now we will be begging for a Macron of our own: a competent grown-up capable of actually accomplishing useful things.

    Fascinating how quickly a consensus formed after Round #1 that Le Pen was now a great force to be reckoned with. And now? Now she’s a footnote. Le Pen, LaFarge, Wilders all gone. Trump is bloodied and weakened. May is in a coma. The fascist-racist-authoritarian thing has not taken root in the West.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  3. SenyorDave says:

    @michael reynolds: It helps to having a living example of what you can get when you elect a know-nothing demagogue. It may turn out to be very fortunate that Trump is inept and surrounded himself with a bunch of equally inept sycophants. Given the state of the Republican congress, its scary to think what this country would be like if Trump had turned out to be a shrewd politician.

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  4. Lounsbury says:

    Competent centrism, but combined with a charisma (of the sort that appeals to the French voter).

    Big lesson – don’t nominate people who are not natural compaigners and not naturally charismatic for posts like the Presidency.

    The guy had a genuis for organization in putting together his party and in political horse-trading in peeling off the right kinds of centrist profiles.

    He also connects well broadly from the French-French to the 2nd/3rd generation.

    Contra your Hillary.

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  5. michael reynolds says:

    @Lounsbury:
    Come now, Hillary connected just fine with French people.

    Oh, you meant Americans. Yeah. OK, fair enough.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  6. Hal_10000 says:

    The fact that Macron has been able to pull together a centrist political party in less than a year and manage to win not just a Presidential election but also what appears to be sufficient power in the legislature to control the agenda going forward is actually quite impressive.y

    Macron is the political outsider that Trump wishes he were. This is how outsiderism is supposed to work. You break from the establishment, yes, but you also … govern.

    Who’d a thunk that, in the last year, France would have the least insane election.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  7. Not the IT Dept. says:

    More and more I’m convinced our restriction on candidates for president and vice-president who are born somewhere else is hurting us. If Macron can pull it off – and it’s a big “if”, God bless the man – then we should be able to recruit him over here for at least one term.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  8. SC_Birdflyte says:

    From my experience of living in France (admittedly, a long time ago), I would’ve considered this incredible: both the U.S. and the U.K. have dysfunctional or hobbled governments, while France has the opportunity to provide an example of how national leadership should function.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  9. JohnMcC says:

    @SC_Birdflyte: And I saw a headline in the NYT business section today to the effect that Italian Banks lead the ECB. The world is upside down, innit?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. Lounsbury says:

    @SC_Birdflyte: It certainly makes the era of Anglosaxon leadership look decidedly shaky.

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  11. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @JohnMcC: Yep!

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