Monday 24 July 2017

Macron leaves rivals reeling as sweep now on cards

Unprecedented low turnout amid claims French voters ‘demotivated’

French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte leave a polling booth as they vote in the first round of the two-stage legislative elections, in Le Touquet, northern France. Photo: AP
French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte leave a polling booth as they vote in the first round of the two-stage legislative elections, in Le Touquet, northern France. Photo: AP

Dean Gray in Paris

The candidates in the runoff of French parliamentary elections hit the campaign trail yesterday, shaken by a record abstention rate in the first round and the prospect of a sweep by President Emmanuel Macron's new party which would shatter the political landscape.

Less than half of registered voters cast ballots on Sunday, the Interior Ministry said in its final count the morning after. Those who did gave Mr Macron's the Republic on the Move party over 28pc of the vote - more than 12 points ahead of the closest rival, the mainstream conservatives.

Poor showing: Marine Le Pen’s party only got 13pc of the vote. Photo: Getty Images
Poor showing: Marine Le Pen’s party only got 13pc of the vote. Photo: Getty Images

If the sweep holds as expected, lawmakers for Mr Macron's party, many of them new to politics, could take more than 400 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly, the lower house - unprecedented in the Fifth Republic, like the 48.7pc participation rate.

Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front fell flat with 13pc of the vote. Ms Le Pen, who had Europe on edge until she lost the May 7 presidential race, was trying to save herself and her party in the legislative contests. She moved to the second round in her northern bastion of Henin-Beaumont. But some ranking party members were eliminated outright, notably campaign director Nicolas Bay, the party's secretary-general.

"Lots of voters thought that (the election result) was played out in advance," Mr Bay said yesterday on CNews television, reflecting a sense expressed by others that the huge presidential win by Mr Macron demotivated many potential voters.

Mr Macron, an upstart centrist, formed his On the Move movement less than 14 months ago and then turned it into a political party, promising to return politics to the people.

Now, Mr Macron's rivals fear the elections will eliminate any effective opposition to counter an all-powerful president. He wants, within weeks, to start reforming French labour laws to make hiring and firing easier, and legislate a code of ethics in politics to end the scandals that over decades have eroded voter trust in the political class.

The Socialist Party of the deeply unpopular former president François Hollande was shredded in the first round, with its leader, Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, eliminated along with Benoit Hamon, the party's presidential candidate. The party took just 9.5pc of the vote.

François Fezeau, a 29-year-old Parisian, said the results so far "fill me with enthusiasm".

"We had a recent (presidential) election which shook up the classic parties and I think that the legislative elections give Mr Macron the possibility to show what he is able to do," he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Mr Macron's rout a "strong vote for reforms" and a senior official signalled Berlin's willingness to deepen co-operation.

France is Germany's second-biggest trading partner and the strong support for pro-European centrist reformer Mr Macron has sparked hopes that Berlin and Paris will spearhead a broad-based economic revival in Europe and a push for more integration in the eurozone.

Ms Merkel and Mr Macron agreed last month to draw up a roadmap to deeper EU integration and suggested the bloc's treaties may change to facilitate even more ambitious reform.

The finance ministers of both countries, Wolfgang Schaeuble and Bruno Le Maire, have set up a joint working group that will present ideas by July on deepening eurozone integration.

Germany's Deputy Finance Minister Jens Spahn said he hoped that Macron would now be able to quickly implement reforms that would boost growth in France's economy.

"If we can help in this regard, we will certainly help," Mr Spahn told Deutschlandfunk broadcaster.

Irish Independent

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