PARIS: He’s the man with the Midas touch — and French President Emmanuel Macron looked set to prove it again Sunday, when his party was projected to sweep into parliament with one of the biggest majorities in the country’s post-war history.
Just four weeks after taking office and 14 months after founding his Republique en Marche (Republic on the Move) party, his candidates are poised to dynamite the traditional parties that have dominated French politics for half a century.
But the hardest part may lie ahead.
While REM is set to crush its rivals, the 39-year-old President could struggle to get his plans for far-reaching labor reforms past the fiery French streets.
Opponents are also pointing out how low turnout for the parliamentary elections—less than half of voters are expected to cast a ballot—could undermine his claims to hold a strong mandate for change.
So far, however, he has enjoyed a political honeymoon.
In meetings with leaders including Germany’s Angela Merkel, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and India’s Narendra Modi, “le Kid”, as L’Express newsweekly nicknamed him, has made an instant impact on the international stage.
He even tried to intimidate US President Donald Trump with a memorable white-knuckle handshake at a NATO summit and later mocked his decision to pull the United States out of the global Paris accord to combat climate change.
Macron’s English-language appeal to “make our planet great again” —a riff on Trump’s own slogan of making America great again—became a social media sensation.
“France is in vogue again, France is cool,” Spain’s El Pais newspaper wrote, comparing the “Macronmania” to the enthusiasm that swept the US after Barack Obama was elected President in 2008.
A column in The New York Times on Saturday by leftwing writer Timothy Egan also claimed that France now had “John F. Kennedy glam and New Frontier energy”.
At home, Macron has adopted a divide-and-rule approach to his opponents, wooing moderates from the left and the right to neuter the opposition.
The son of two doctors from the northeastern city of Amiens, Macron has made a career out of breaking the mold.
The former investment banker is married to his 64-year-old former teacher Brigitte, a divorced mother of three whom he fell for as a teen.
His path to France’s highest office is as unusual as their inter-generational love story.
Macron had never held elected office before throwing his hat into the ring to replace President Francois Hollande, two years after Hollande promoted him from political unknown to become economy minister.
In a country where political careers have traditionally been built over decades, Macron took the risk of founding his own party rather than trying to seek the nomination of the Socialists or the Republicans, the heavyweight parties on the left and right.
Using his image as a modernizer, he attracted thousands of volunteers to his party, which was modelled partly on Obama’s 2008 campaign.
The downfall of the Socialists and a scandal engulfing the conservative Republicans fuelled his rise, allowing him to lead the battle against the far-right’s Marine Le Pen, whom he beat soundly in the presidential run-off on May 7.
While fans often compare his style to that of American Presidents, he appears to be more inspired by Francois Mitterrand and Charles de Gaulle, two French leaders remembered for their monarchical style.
Since his inauguration Macron has sought to restore lost prestige to the presidency, delivering his victory speech in front of the Louvre museum—a former royal palace—and hosting Putin at the palace of Versailles.
He has also kept a tight rein on communications, speaking very little in public and being accused by some journalists of trying to interfere with the work of the press.
The Canard Enchaine newspaper revealed in May that one of Macron’s closest allies and a senior minister in his first government, Richard Ferrand, had benefited from an insider property deal while running a public health fund.
Despite calls for his resignation, the government braved the storm and stood by him, conceding that Ferrand’s actions may have been unethical but not unlawful. A prosecutor has opened a probe.
Macron was also embroiled in early blunder after being caught on camera joking about the flimsy “kwassa-kwassa” boats that transport migrants from the Comoros Islands off the coast of Africa to French territories.
“The kwassa-kwassa doesn’t do much fishing, it carries Comorians,” he said laughing.
The remark caused outrage given the thousands of migrants who have died in such crossings.
Macron’s office later admitted to an “unfortunate quip that may have been hurtful”.