Macron aims to consolidate power as French elect MPs

PARIS: French voters cast their ballots in low numbers on Sunday in the first round of a parliamentary election expected to give President Emmanuel Macron the strong majority needed to carry out the far-reaching economic and social reforms he promises.
The vote to elect the lower house’s 577 members comes a month after Macron, a 39-year-old former banker with little political experience, defied the odds to win the presidency of the euro zone’s second-largest economy.
If, as polls project, Macron and his fledgling party win a commanding majority in next week’s second round, it will be another blow for the mainstream parties on the right and left which failed to get a candidate into the presidential run-off.
“We want a big majority to be able to act and transform France over the next five years,” Mounir Mahjoubi, a tech entrepreneur running under Macron’s Republic On The Move (LREM) banner said as he canvassed support in his northern Paris constituency ahead of the vote.
Opinion polls forecast LREM and its centre-right MoDem allies will win at least 30 per cent of votes on Sunday.
The conservative The Republicans party and its allies trail with about 20 per cent, ahead of the far-right National Front on about 17 per cent.
Such an outcome would transform into a landslide majority in the second round, the opinion polls show.
“I think voters are pretty mobilised behind LREM,” said Georges Garion, a 64-year-old company manager, before voting began in Paris. “We’re seeing a kind of majority cohesion, it’s democracy at work.”
Across France, however, turnout was low and three pollsters projected it would remain below 50 per cent. Interior Ministry data showed 40.75 per cent of registered voters had cast ballots by 1500 GMT, well below the 48.31 per cent at the same time in the 2012 election.
The weak turnout will likely narrow the second-round field, because candidates need the support of 12.5 per cent of registered voters to qualify.
While predicting the outcome can be tricky with 7,882 candidates vying for parliament’s seats, even LREM’s rivals have been saying they expect Macron to secure a majority.
Their strategy has been to urge voters to make sure the opposition will be big enough to have some clout in parliament. “We shouldn’t have a monopolistic party,” former prime minister Bernard Cazeneuve, a Socialist, said.
The survival of the Socialist Party, which ruled France for the past five years but is forecast to get just 15 to 30 seats, is at stake, as is the unity of The Republicans. Some key figures from both parties have rallied behind Macron.
The National Front, reeling from a worse than expected score for chief Marine Le Pen in the presidential election, could miss its target to get enough lawmakers to form a parliamentary group. It is expected though to improve on the two deputies it had in the previous legislature. — Reuters