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Why did so few people vote in France's parliamentary elections?


Valérie Pécresse

Valérie Pécresse

Valérie Pécresse

Sunday was a good day for French President Emmanuel Macron. Just weeks after his remarkable win in the French presidential election, Mr Macron's only-recently established political party took a huge lead in the first round of voting for the country's legislature, the National Assembly. The Republique En Marche (REM) party is projected to win 390 to 430 of the French Parliament's 577 seats, according to an Ipsos-Sopra analysis.

But observers noticed an uncomfortable detail in the electoral figures: Turnout of registered voters was the lowest it had been in any parliamentary election under France's Fifth Republic.

It's certainly an unusual detail. Voter turnout is often very high in French elections. Mr Macron had billed himself as the leader of a popular movement, but less than half of registered French voters bothered to turn up.

Political opponents used the turnout to criticize the legitimacy of the French president. "I am particularly concerned about the fact that one French person out of two did not vote," Valérie Pécresse (pictured), president of the centre-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 programme."

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National party (FN), voiced similar concerns. "This catastrophic abstention rate should raise the question of the voting rules, which keep millions of our compatriots away from the polling stations," said Ms Le Pen, according to the France 24 television network. She had faced off against Mr Macron in the second round of France's presidential election, and is a candidate for parliament in the town of Henin-Beaumon.

Some foreigners compared the limited turnout unfavourably with the British parliamentary elections that took place only a few days before. That election saw the Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party gain 40pc of the vote with a turnout of 68.7pc, but still gain only the second-largest amount of seats. In contrast, Mr Macron's REM was estimated to have received 32pc of the vote with a turnout of 48.6pc - but looks to dominate the National Assembly in a landslide.

Such comparisons are limited by the differences in electoral systems, however.

And one reason for the lack of enthusiasm for the vote may have been simple fatigue. French voters had already gone to the polls twice in the past two months.

Given that the polls already showed a huge victory for REM, many French voters may have wondered whether there was any point. Additionally, in much of the country it was scorchingly hot on Sunday.

Mr Macron's likely dominance of the National Assembly will work in his favour, especially given the collapse in support for both traditional mainstream parties - the Republicans and the Socialists - as well as the FN. Initial polls suggested that supporters of the FN and leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon were most likely to abstain next Sunday - but if turnout doesn't improve in the second round, it will likely be used to criticize Macron's legitimacy.

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