A poster of French President Emmanuel Macron is displayed during a meeting of candidates of “La Republique En Marche” party for the upcoming parliamentary election (elections legislatives), on June 7, 2017 in Angers, western France. / AFP PHOTO / JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD
France’s traditional bastions of the left and right for 60 years fear they will be swept aside by President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist candidates in Sunday’s first round of parliamentary elections, leaving the country without an effective opposition.
When the 39-year-old centrist beat Marine Le Pen to become France’s youngest ever president on May 7, many observers predicted he would struggle to secure a majority to implement his ambitious labour and social reforms.
But just four weeks later polls show that Macron’s Republique en Marche (Republic on the Move, REM) party, founded just over a year ago, is heading for an absolute majority in the two-round elections.
REM are polling at around 30 percent in the first round, a score shown translating into a clear majority in the June 18 second round and a chance for Macron to implement his ambitious programme of labour and social reforms.
Their closest rivals, the conservative Republicans, are on 20 percent while Le Pen’s far-right National Front (FN) is two percent further back.
The radical left party of firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon is on around 12.5 percent and the Socialists of Macron’s predecessor, Francois Hollande, are languishing on just eight percent.
REM, and their small centrist allies MODEM, would therefore obtain a comfortable majority in the 577-seat National Assembly of between 385 and 415 lawmakers, several polls show.
The predictions have led to warnings from Macron’s rivals of the danger of the new president’s party presiding over a “single-party state”.
– ‘He mustn’t govern alone’ –
“It’s not easy to explain that we are not electing an emperor, we’re electing a president,” said former conservative prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.
“Having a young president has given the country a breath of fresh air which is very useful. But he mustn’t govern alone, we mustn’t have a single party,” he added.
On the left, Melenchon — who has vowed to lead opposition to Macron’s plans to loosen the country’s labour laws — has urged voters not to give the 39-year-old president “absolute power”.
Benoit Hamon, who finished a humiliating fifth as the Socialist candidate in the presidential election, deplored what he called the “Macronmania”.
Indeed, the weekly news magazine L’Express playfully featured Macron on its front cover this week in the style of a teenage magazine with headlines such as “He walks on water” and “Landslide in legislatives”.
French voters traditionally rally behind their new leader in the parliamentary elections, held within weeks of the presidential vote.
Macron’s predecessors Hollande, in 2012, Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 and Jacques Chirac in 2002 all won outright majorities. Unlike Macron however, they all came from long-established parties.
– A submissive parliament? –
The composition of the new parliament will be very different this year because more than 200 lawmakers in the 577-seat assembly are not standing for re-election, more than double the figure in 2012.
Macron is hoping REM candidates — around half of whom have never held office — will take their place.
Most of his would-be MPs were only chosen after the presidential election, giving them little more than a month to campaign.
But it seems that in many cases their association with Macron will be enough to sweep them into parliament — and several big political names are set to fall victim to the phenomenon.
Greens former housing minister Cecile Duflot faces a strong challenge from 28-year-old Pierre Person in eastern Paris and former conservative minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet is expected to struggle against entrepreneur Gilles Le Gendre.
“If I may say, at the moment you could take a goat wearing a Macron badge and it would have a good chance of being elected,” BFMTV political commentator Christophe Barbier said.
Analysts have warned that the inexperience of Macron’s MPs could make for a submissive parliament.
“When you have a huge legislative majority and novice lawmakers, the executive has an awful lot of power,” said political scientist Jerome Sainte-Marie, from the PollingVox institute.
“Within this gigantic parliamentary party there could be internal difficulties,” said Pascal Perrineau, a researcher at Cevipof.
“At first this (majority) will seem like a gift from heaven, but it will eventually be seen as a difficulty” he added.