Emmanuel Macron’s new centrist party could be within reach of a clear majority in parliamentary elections, with his candidates this week topping the first-round vote in almost all constituencies for French voters abroad.
First-round voting across France will take place on 11 June with a final round on 18 June, but French voters who live abroad and choose their own members of parliament for “overseas constituencies” voted early due to security restrictions on online voting.
Unusually, the foreign ministry has already released the first-round results for French voters abroad. The French president’s candidates were ahead in 10 out of 11 constituencies and now face a second round.
Candidates for the fledgling La République En Marche (Republic on the Move) political movement – which was set up just over a year ago as a vehicle for Macron to win the presidency – had large leads, including in the US and Canada constituency, which was previously held by a rightwing MP.
Macron’s candidate, Alexander Holroyd, also took over 50% of the first-round vote in northern Europe, which includes the UK, Ireland, Scandinavia and the Baltic states, where he is facing the Socialist former minister Axelle Lemaire. Turnout was 19.1%, slightly lower than the last parliamentary election, meaning over 80% abstained.
The constituencies that represent French citizens living abroad are not considered typical or representative of the broader French population. But the vote was consistent with projections by all French pollsters showing that the centrist movement is advancing as the traditional right and left parties of government that once dominated parliament see support shrinking.
At least 289 seats are needed for a parliamentary majority, but a series of projections by polling firms have shown Macron’s movement could win more than 300 and might be within reach of one of the largest parliamentary majorities in postwar France.
Candidates in support of the pro-business Macron many of whom are new to parliamentary politics and include a former fighter pilot, a former bullfighter, a leading mathematician, business owners and pensioners have centred their campaigns on the argument “give the new president a chance”.
Macron needs a solid parliamentary majority if he is to put in place his plans to loosen France’s extensive labour laws and change the French welfare system on pensions and unemployment benefits. His prime minister, Édouard Philippe, said on Tuesday that the government wanted to modernize labour laws fast. He argued that overhauling France’s social model of welfare protections was “essential and urgent”.
One of the first tasks that will face the new parliament is a vote to allow Macron the power to use his own executive decrees to push through changes to working rules and conditions before the end of the summer. This is a contentious issue, with the potential for street protests. On Tuesday, Philippe promised talks with trade unions.
The question of how parliamentary opposition will shape up remains open. Macron’s opposition is split between divided and differing-sized parties. The rightwing party Les Républicains, which had hoped to dominate parliament, has dropped behind in the polls, and many of its candidates are prepared to cooperate with a Macron government.
The hard-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who came fourth in the presidential election, is running for a parliamentary seat in the southern port city of Marseille, where his presidential scores were strong, and hopes his movement, La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) can gain more than the 15 seats required to have its own parliamentary grouping. But the left is divided among several candidates in many constituencies and the results are not certain.
The far-right Front National’s Marine Le Pen, who gained 10.6m votes and came second in the presidential election, is running for a parliamentary seat in her northern former coalmining heartlands around Hénin-Beaumont. The FN only has two seats in parliament. It is seeking to reach the 15-seat threshold to form a parliamentary group that would give it more speaking time and access to top roles within the assembly. But it is not certain to reach that. Outside a few strongholds in the far north and south-east of the country, the FN will face the same challenges it faced in the presidential election: voters of mainstream parties voting tactically against it in the final round.
Frédéric Dabi of the Ifop polling institute said Macron was benefiting from “very strong goodwill” at the start of his presidency.
One hitch to Macron’s first few weeks in office has been a controversy centred on one of his newly appointed ministers and earliest backers, the former Socialist Richard Ferrand. On the same day that Macron’s new government unveiled new ethics proposals to clean up politics, French prosecutors announced a preliminary investigation into a property deal involving Ferrand’s partner several years ago.
The Canard Enchaîné newspaper reported that a public insurance fund previously headed by Ferrand in his native Brittany agreed in 2011 to rent a building from his partner and pay for renovations that significantly boosted its value. “I am an honest man,” Ferrand told French radio, denying any wrongdoing. The government and prime minister have stood by him.