PARIS, France (AFP) — French President Emmanuel Macron’s party topped the first round of voting in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, putting him on course for an overwhelming majority to implement his program of ambitious reforms.
Estimates based on partial results showed Macron’s year-old Republique en Marche (Republic on the Move, REM) and its ally MoDem on 32.2-32.9 percent, ahead of the right-wing Republicans on 20.9-21.5%. The far-right National Front (FN) was seen third with 13.1-14%.
Seat projections showed Macron’s camp going on to win between 390 and 445 seats in the 577-member National Assembly after next Sunday’s second round — continuing his centrist revolution which has left France’s traditional parties in tatters.
Both the Republicans — who had hoped to upstage Macron in the parliamentary election — and the Socialists of Macron’s predecessor Francois Hollande appeared set for steep losses.
Marine Le Pen’s FN party was left disappointed as she struggles to rebound from her bruising defeat by Macron in the presidential run-off, with the party’s result largely unchanged from the first round of the 2012 vote.
Turnout was markedly down on Sunday compared with the last parliamentary election, reflecting a degree of fatalism among Macron’s opponents in the face of his advance as well as a degree of election fatigue, experts said.
Around 49% of the electorate cast a ballot — one of the lowest levels in such an election in decades.
The results showed Macron continuing to impress the French, a month after being elected France’s youngest-ever president on May 7.
Since then he has won praise for appointing a balanced cabinet that straddles the left-right divide and taking a leading role in Europe’s fight-back against US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from a global climate accord.
If the seat projections are confirmed next week he will have a strong mandate to push through the ambitious labor, economic and social reforms he promised on the campaign trail.
Few MPs are expected to be elected outright on Sunday.
If no candidate wins over 50%, the two top-placed contenders go into the second round — along with any other candidate who garners at least 12.5% of registered voters.
More than 50,000 police were on patrol during the vote, with France still jittery after a wave of jihadist attacks across Europe.
In the latest incident, a 40-year-old self-radicalized Algerian was shot and wounded after he attacked a policeman with a hammer outside Paris’s Notre Dame cathedral on Tuesday.
Macron, who had never held elected office before becoming president, has run novices seeking to emulate his success in around 200 constituencies — part of his bid to inject new blood in French politics.
They include Marie Sara, a retired bullfighter, who is taking on Gilbert Collard, a senior member of Le Pen’s National Front in southern France.
Macron is also trying to usher in an era of cleaner politics. His government’s first bill proposes to ban lawmakers from employing family members or performing consultancy work while in office.
The measures follow the scandal that destroyed the presidential bid of Republicans candidate Francois Fillon, who has been charged over payments to his wife and two of his children for suspected fake jobs as parliamentary assistants. Fillon denies the charges.
Two parties, Le Pen’s National Front and the small centrist MoDem party, an REM ally, are meanwhile under investigation over alleged expenses fraud at the European Parliament.
One of Macron’s ministers who is running for re-election in Brittany, Richard Ferrand, is also being probed over a property deal involving his girlfriend.
FN falls short
Le Pen’s party will struggle to win the 15 seats it would need to form a parliamentary group, being forecast to take only 10.
The radical-left France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party of Jean-Luc Melenchon also fell short of expectations.
Macron has urged voters to back his reform proposals including an overhaul of the rigid rules governing the job market, blamed by many economists for holding back growth.
The president was economy minister in the Socialist government that began loosening the labor laws last year, sparking mass demonstrations that lasted for months.