Macron Wins Majority in French Parliament, Pollsters Project (2)

Jun 18, 2017 4:35 pm ET

(Bloomberg) -- Emmanuel Macron’s year-old political movement won a large majority in the French parliament Sunday, sweeping aside established parties and giving the rookie president a mandate to push through changes for the French economy, according to pollsters’ projections.

Macron’s Republic on the Move, known as LREM, is on track to win about 360 seats in the 577-strong National Assembly, pollsters estimated, based on sampling of initial votes. That’s the biggest victory in 15 years, though the vote also saw the lowest turnout ever for a French parliamentary election, a sign of the disaffection and frustration that has characterized this year’s campaign. Surveys before the ballot had suggested LREM could win as many as 470 seats.

The 39-year-old Macron was elected president in May after creating a centrist political movement that brought together millions of moderates who in the past had backed the Socialists or Republicans. Those two parties had dominated French politics for decades but Macron pushed them further to the margins during his first month in office, cementing his popularity with some high-profile positions on climate change and economic reform, and poaching some of their leading members for cabinet positions.
 
“Voters gave him power with a pinch of salt,” Brice Teinturier, head of polling at Ipsos, said on France 2. “This is a victory but his presidency is under surveillance. This isn’t the tsunami that was expected.”

French markets have rallied since Macron topped the polls in the first presidential ballot on April 23, signaling that the populist threat of Marine Le Pen’s National Front would be held in check. The spread between French and German 10-year government bonds has more than halved, to about 35 basis points on Friday, while France’s benchmark stock index is up about 4 percent.

Le Pen Wins

Macron’s prime minister, Edouard Philippe, said the results give the government a “clear majority” to enact its agenda, though he acknowledged the low turnout. “Abstentionism is never good for democracy,” Philippe said. “The government will consider it has an obligation to succeed. Now comes the time for action.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she is looking forward to continuing her cooperation with Macron, while Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in a Twitter posting that Sunday’s vote paves the way for reforms in France. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker posted a letter he sent to Philippe that said the results show “a resolutely modern France that’s determined to take part in a strong European future.”

Le Pen won her race in northern France and will take a seat in parliament for the first time. Her party is forecast to win about eight seats, short of the 15 needed to form a parliamentary group and take part in debates.

‘Smashing the System’

Ipsos projected that Macron’s LREM and his MoDem allies will end up with 355 seats, while Kantar said 360. Elabe said it will be between 355 to 365 seats. The Republicans are set to form the biggest opposition group, with about 130 seats, pollsters said.

“The French wanted to give a clear majority to the president, and it’s done. I congratulate him,” Republican leader Francois Baroin said. “We have a strong enough group to be heard, to defend our interests and make our differences clear.”

Socialist leader Jean-Christophe Cambadelis resigned as soon as the polls closed, saying his party had suffered an “unmistakable” defeat and faces a long struggle to rebuild its position. The Socialists, who held the majority in the outgoing parliament, could be reduced to fewer than 40 deputies.

Jean-Luc Melenchon’s far-left France Unbowed group could win around 25 seats, and he vowed “total resistance” to Macron’s plans to simplify France’s labor code. Melenchon, who won his seat in Marseille, said the low turnout denied the majority any legitimacy.

Despite the bravado from France’s opposition leaders, all of them face internal challenges after a punishing election season.

“Though Emmanuel Macron and Tony Blair have much in common, Blair never sought to smash the U.K.’s party system, which EM has done in France,” Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, said in a Twitter posting, referring to the British prime minister who won three straight elections from 1997.

(Updates with latest projections in 2nd paragraph, comments from politicians.)

--With assistance from Mark Deen

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