Monday 21 August 2017

Macron sweeps to victory in French parliamentary election

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) attends a ceremony marking the 77th anniversary of late French General Charles de Gaulle's resistance call of June 18, 1940, at the Mont Valerien memorial in Suresnes, near Paris, France, June 18, 2017. REUTERS/Bertrand Guay/Pool
French President Emmanuel Macron (L) attends a ceremony marking the 77th anniversary of late French General Charles de Gaulle's resistance call of June 18, 1940, at the Mont Valerien memorial in Suresnes, near Paris, France, June 18, 2017. REUTERS/Bertrand Guay/Pool
French President Emmanuel Macron and French Minister of the Armed Forces Sylvie Goulard attend a ceremony to mark the 77th anniversary of late French General Charles de Gaulle's appeal of June 18, 1940, at the Mont Valerien memorial in Suresnes, outside of Paris, France, Sunday, June 18, 2017. The appeal, which was delivered on the BBC by Charles de Gaulle, served to rally his countrymen after the fall of France to Nazi Germany. (Bertrand Guay/Pool Photo via AP)
French President Emmanuel Macron meets people after voting in the final round of parliamentary elections, in the northern seaside town of Le Touquet, France, Sunday, June 18, 2017. French voters are choosing legislators for the National Assembly in the second round of parliamentary elections expected to hand a huge majority to President Emmanuel Macron's new centrist movement, allowing him to advance his pro-business, pro-European agenda. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
French President Emmanuel Macron attends a ceremony marking the 77th anniversary of late French General Charles de Gaulle's resistance call of June 18, 1940, at the Mont Valerien memorial in Suresnes, near Paris, France, June 18, 2017. REUTERS/Bertrand Guay/Pool

Elaine Ganley and Sylvie Corbet

Emmanuel Macron's party has scored, has scored an overwhelming victory in France's parliamentary elections, clinching its young leader's hold on power.

President Macron fulfilled his wish to disrupt politics as usual with new faces - including a farmer, a teacher and a maths genius - and a new approach.

But he may be getting more than he bargained for with the entry into parliament's lower house of loud voices from the ultra-left and far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, both promising to fight his plans to overhaul French workplace laws, one of the nation's touchiest subjects.

"Through their vote, a wide majority of the French have chosen hope over anger," said prime minister Edouard Philippe, reiterating his "total" determination to work on major reforms in the coming months.

A minor reshuffle of the cabinet, an obligatory move after parliamentary elections, is expected this week, perhaps as soon as Monday.

The May 7 election of the Mr Macron, 39, himself untested, upended France's political landscape, a phenomenon that continued with the parliamentary victory of a party that did not exist 14 months ago.

With the June 27 start of the new session, the novices within the ranks of Mr Macron's Republique en Marche! - Republic on the Move! party will be learning at high-speed.

Half of the candidates in the running for his party were drawn from civilian life and half were women.

Starting on Monday, many will be taking their first official steps in the corridors of power, invited to pick up keys and the blue-white-red sashes warn by elected officials, and learn their way around.

Pollsters projected Republic on the Move! and its allies could take up to about 360 of the lower chamber's 577 seats.

Official partial results confirmed the trend, showing them with 327 seats, with 33 seats yet to be counted.

The party will have far more than the 289 seats needed for an absolute majority to carry out Mr Macron's programme.

Mainstream conservatives and their allies, the closest rivals, held their ground better than expected.

The Interior Ministry counted the Republicans and allied candidates with 131 seats, with 33 seats still uncounted.

The Socialist Party, which dominated the outgoing Assembly, was flattened by the unpopularity of former president Francois Hollande.

With its allies, it could get fewer than 50 seats, according to projections.

The stinging reality of defeat pushed party leader Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, who lost in last week's first-round vote, to resign - and blast the Macron system "with all the power".

The Macron steamroller effect could be blunted with the entrance into parliament of some prickly opponents.

Ms Le Pen, who fought him for the presidency, won a seat representing her northern bastion around Henin-Beaumont with more than 58% of the vote.

The National Front party was expected to place up to eight MPs in the lower chamber, compared with two in the outgoing Assembly.

Ms Le Pen said she would "fight with all necessary means the harmful projects of the government", especially what she called Mr Macron's pro-European, pro-migrant policies.

"We are the only force of resistance to the dilution of France, of its social model and its identity," she said, claiming the mainstream opposition parties were but "satellites" of the Macron power structure.

Ms Le Pen's nemesis, the ultra-left Jean-Luc Melenchon, vowed a "social coup d'etat", saying Mr Macron's plans to reform labour laws amounted to "destruction of the social order".

Unlike the National Front, Mr Melenchon and his allies will have the required 15 MPs needed to form a group, a tool that provides extra funds, speaking time and other ways to influence policy.

Mr Macron's bid to ease hiring and firing through a set of measures aimed at bringing down the unemployment rate - now just below 10% - is the most sensitive plan on his agenda. Unions fear it would destroy workers' protections.

Unions have already criticised the reform and the president's decision to skirt normal procedure to pass changes that would short-circuit extended debate and stop amendments. The measures must, however, be ratified by parliament.

Macron also wants to clean up politics to change the image of a political class dominated by career politicians, peppered with corruption and losing credibility.

The new government has already presented a draft bill with fresh restrictions on how MPs operate.

Disillusion with the political class is one reason given for what is likely to be a record low participation rate that could outdo the record low in last Sunday's first round, measured at 43% - five points lower than last week.

Experts partly blamed voter fatigue following the May election of Macron, plus voter disappointment with politics.

Confusion also played a role, according to Frederic Dabi, of the IFOP polling firm.

Mr Macron's party, which did not exist 14 months ago and offered novice candidates from civilian life, has drawn from left and right to fill its ranks, effectively blurring the traditional left-right political divide.

Mr Macron's party "vampirised" the left and right after his huge win in the presidential balloting, Mr Dabi said on CNews TV.

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