Macron Set for Majority in Assembly After First-Round Vote

  • President’s party seen winning most seats in parliament
  • Pollsters project Macron’s group at 33 percent in first round

Atlantic Council Says Macron's Majority a Big Deal

President Emmanuel Macron headed for a clear majority in the National Assembly after French voters rallied behind their new head of state in the first round of legislative elections Sunday.

Macron’s year-old party, Republic on the Move, won about 33 percent of the vote, some 13 percentage points ahead of the Republicans, according to pollsters’ projections based on an early vote count. The result could give Macron’s party as many as 445 seats out of 577 in the lower house of parliament, according to projections by Elabe. The lowest estimate for his seat count was from Ipsos, which saw 390 to 430 seats.

The results defied the conventional wisdom in France -- much repeated by Macron’s rivals during the presidential campaign -- that his fledgling party would never secure the majority required to govern, leaving the country in limbo. Instead, the 39-year-old president finds himself empowered to push through his recipe for fixing France over the next five years.

“This victory will no doubt go down as one of the great electoral achievements in our country’s recent history,” said Bruno Cautres, a politics professor at Sciences Po who works with pollster BVA.

One key plank of that vision is the controversial labor-market overhaul that he has promised to deliver by mid-September. With the French economy lagging its peers, Macron also wants to change tax rates and fix inequalities in the pension system. He’s already started to revamp French intelligence services after terrorists claimed more than 200 lives since the beginning of 2015.

Labor Reform

Simplifying France’s labor code was one of Macron’s main campaign promises. The president began a round of initial meetings with union leaders within 10 days of taking office on May 14. Those talks will get under way in earnest after next Sunday’s second-round vote as the government seeks common ground for reworking the country’s byzantine labor rules.

Macron wants individual companies to negotiate wages rather than being bound by industry-wide agreements. He has argued that a more flexible labor market would help boost growth and win the trust of France’s European partners, above all Germany.

For at least two decades, French unions have opposed such efforts, emphasizing instead job protection for their members, but a week from now, Macron may find himself in a stronger position than any French president for a generation. With a majority in parliament and hundreds of lawmakers who are completely new to politics, the president would hold extensive control over the levers of government.

What’s more, the opposition parties who might ordinarily lead the resistance to Macron and his prime minister, Edouard Philippe, are embroiled in extensive rebuilding after each suffered unprecedented defeats during the presidential vote.

“The message of the French people is unambiguous,” Philippe said in a televised address. “For the third consecutive time, millions of you confirmed your support for the renewing, unifying, reconquering project of the president.”

Opposition Forces

The Socialists and their allies, who held power under Francois Hollande until just weeks ago, will be reduced to between 20 and 35 seats from the 331 they won in 2012 as many of their voters and indeed lawmakers rally to Macron, Ipsos projected.

“Where ever possible, I call for diversity to be maintained” in the second-round vote, Socialist Jerome Guedj said on France 2 television. “Whenever there has been a monolithic assembly, things have gone badly,” he said.

The second round of voting takes place next Sunday.

The Socialists are also facing a challenge from the left from Jean-Luc Melenchon’s France Unbowed. The far-left candidate won 19 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election and will see his party obtain about between 11 and 21 seats, Ipsos said.

The Republicans, the heirs to Charles de Gaulle who looked set to take power themselves six months ago, will have between 85 and 125 seats amid recriminations over a failed presidential campaign, Ipsos’s projections show.

Le Pen’s Appeal

National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who lost to Macron in the presidential runoff, has faced criticism from party grandees over her performance and her party will win between 3 and 10 seats. Like other opposition politicians, she highlighted the fact that about half of eligible voters didn’t participate in today’s balloting.

“All patriotic voters need to go to the polls next Sunday” to prevent the “gutting of the labor law” and the politics of austerity driven by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, she said.

Le Pen led polling in her constituency in northwestern France, suggesting she will enter the Assembly for the first time. Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who quit the Republicans to work with Macron, held about 45 percent of the vote in his constituency west of Paris, suggesting he is sure to be re-elected next week. Richard Ferrand, regional development minister and close ally of Macron, was also on track to return to the Assembly.

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