PARIS, France (AFP) — French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party won a massive majority in parliamentary elections on Sunday, dominating the country’s traditional forces in a dramatic re-drawing of the political map.
Macron’s year-old Republic on the Move (REM) and their allies were set to win between 355 and 425 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly, according to partial results after the second round of an election in which many high-profile figures were thrown out.
The result, if confirmed, would give 39-year-old Macron one of France’s biggest post-war majorities, strengthening his hand in implementing his program of business-friendly reforms.
The assembly is set to be transformed with a new generation of lawmakers — younger, more ethnically diverse and with far more women than the outgoing parliament.
But turnout stood at a record low of around 44 percent, leading opposition leaders to claim he had no groundswell of support.
The winning margin was lower than was forecast during the past week, when some estimates suggested REM and its allies could secure as many as 470 seats.
“A clear majority has voted for us,” REM spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told TF1, adding: “It will be a majority with an opposition and that’s good news.”
Desire for change
Just months ago, Macron was given little chance of becoming president, never mind controlling parliament, but he and the movement he founded 16 months ago have tapped into widespread desire for wholesale change.
His party dominated France’s traditional parties, the right-wing Republicans and Socialists, but also the far-right National Front (FN) of Marine Le Pen — whom he defeated in the presidential run-off — which fell far short of its target.
Le Pen, who entered parliament for the first time in her career, told supporters her FN had won at least six seats — but the party was certain to fall short of its target of 15 seats.
“We are the only force of resistance to the watering down of France, of its social model and its identity,” she said defiantly.
Le Pen’s victory in the northern former coal-mining 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.
The Socialists were the biggest losers of the night, punished by association with years of high unemployment, social unrest and lost national confidence.
“The rout of the Socialist Party is undeniable,” said PS leader Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, who lost his seat in the humiliating first round.
The party shed around 200 seats after five years in power under former president Francois Hollande, leaving them with only around 27 to 49 seats.
The Republicans hung on to between 97 and 130 seats, down from over 200 in the last parliament, and remain the main opposition party.
The 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.”
“The task he faces is immense,” he added.
Despite the zest for political renewal, the vote failed to generate much excitement.
Official statistics showed turnout at a near 60-year low, revealing a high degree of election fatigue after four votes in under two months.
Around half of REM’s candidates are virtual unknowns, drawn from diverse fields of academia, business or local activism. They include a mathematician, a former Rwandan orphan and a female bullfighter.
The other half are a mix of centrists and moderate left- and right-wing politicians drawn from established parties including ally MoDem.
“People are tired of always seeing the same faces,” said Natacha Dumay, a 59-year-old teacher voting in the northeastern Paris suburb of Pantin, where Socialist former justice minister Elisabeth Guigou was voted out a week ago.
“Even if we don’t know the new faces, it’s not important. We’re not voting for individuals, but for a program,” Dumay added.
The hard-left France Unbowed also struggled to maintain the momentum it had during the presidential election. It was forecast to win only between 10 and 30 seats.
Jean-Luc Melenchon, the firebrand leader of the movement, is running for election in the southern city of Marseille on a promise to lead resistance to Macron’s radical labor market reforms.
Apart from loosening labor laws to try to boost employment, Macron also plans measures to deepen European integration and an overhaul of the social security system.
His confident start at home, where he has concentrated on trying to restore the lost prestige of the president, and his decisive action on the international stage have led to a host of positive headlines.