PARIS: French voters have put President Emmanuel Macron’s party on course for a crushing parliamentary majority, though a record low turnout in the first round of voting raised concerns Monday over the strength of his future mandate.
Projections showed Macron widening his centrist revolution, with his Republique en Marche (Republic on the Move, REM) party and its ally MoDem tipped to win between 400 and 445 seats in the 577-member National Assembly in next Sunday’s second round.
Such a share would give Macron—who founded his party just a year ago—one of the biggest parliamentary majorities seen in the modern French state.
“France is back,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe declared triumphantly.
Government spokesman Christophe Castaner said the 49 percent turnout—The lowest for six decades in such a vote—was “a failure of this election”, acknowledging that the Macron team would need to reach out to those who stayed away.
But former prime minister Alain Juppe of the rightwing Republicans said the low turnout was a sign of “deep malaise” in the electorate and that a clean sweep by Macron would be bad for democracy.
“The stakes of the second round are clear,” said the current mayor of Bordeaux, calling for Republicans voters to turn out in force on Sunday. “Having a monochrome parliament is never good for democratic debate”.
Among commentators also sounding a cautionary note was Nicolas Beytout of the daily L’Opinion, who wrote: “Sure, Emmanuel Macron is ready to pull off the unthinkable for someone who didn’t even have a party a year ago—a spectacular majority in the National Assembly.”
But Macron’s score of 24 percent in the first round of the presidential race and Sunday’s low turnout undermine “the illusion of Macron-mania”, he said.
Some experts say the low turnout reflects fatalism among Macron’s opponents in the face of his seemingly unstoppable advance.
What editorial writers proclaimed as a “spectacular” sweep by the REM left the Republicans—who had hoped to rebound from their humiliation in the presidential vote— trailing in second with a predicted 70-130 seats.
The far-right National Front (FN) of Marine Le Pen was meanwhile forecast to garner only between one and 10 seats.
The FN’s result showed the party struggling to rebound from Le Pen’s bruising defeat by Macron in May’s presidential run-off.
The FN’s deputy leader Florian Philippot admitted to “disappointment” and called on voters to “mobilize massively” for the second round.
The radical-left France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party of Jean-Luc Melenchon, who finished fourth in the presidential race, also fell short of expectations. His camp is tipped to only take 10-23 seats.
The worst losses, however, were for the Socialists of Macron’s predecessor Francois Hollande and their allies, who are predicted to lose a staggering 200 seats.
The party’s chief Jean-Christophe Cambadelis and its failed presidential candidate Benoit Hamon both crashed out of the running on Sunday.
Cambadelis appealed to voters not to give Macron a monopoly on power.
Parliament risked having “no real oversight powers and no democratic debate worth speaking of,” he warned.
Few candidates reached the 50-percent mark needed for election at the first round.
A second round of voting will be held on Sunday in nearly all constituencies between the two or three top-placed contenders.
Official final results showed Macron’s one-year-old REM and allies MoDem winning 32.32 percent, ahead of the Republicans on 21.56 percent and the FN on 13.20 percent.
The Socialists and their allies secured just 9.51 percent while the radical left and communists were on 13.74 percent.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel congratulated Macron on a “great success” Sunday, calling it “a vote for reforms.”
France’s youngest-ever president at 39, Macron has gained 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 on climate change.
Sunday’s results show he will have relatively free rein to push through the ambitious labor, economic and social reforms he promised on the campaign trail.
Macron, who had never held elected office before becoming president, will also have succeeded in ushering in a younger and more diverse parliament with more women and ethnic minorities.
His party fielded political newcomers in around 200 constituencies, some of whom felled heavyweights of the left and right in the first round.
“A political novice, Emmanuel Macron is set to pull off the most spectacular grand slam of the Fifth Republic,” wrote Laurent Joffrin of the left-leaning Liberation daily. “His one-year-old movement is ready to flood the parliament with conquering neophytes.”