Macron looks to cement mandate as French elect new parliament

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Mon, 12 Jun 2017 - 12:30 GMT

Emmanuel Macron won the French presidency on May 7 but now needs to secure a commanding parliamentary majority to implement the reforms he promised AFP/JOEL SAGET

Emmanuel Macron won the French presidency on May 7 but now needs to secure a commanding parliamentary majority to implement the reforms he promised AFP/JOEL SAGET

Paris - 12 June 2017: A month after Emmanuel Macron's election as French president, voters returned to the polls Sunday for the first round of a parliamentary vote expected to give him a comfortable majority.

Turnout was markedly down, reflecting a sense of resignation among Macron's opponents faced with polls showing the 39-year-old set to sweep the board, buoyed by a deep desire for political renewal.

After nine hours of voting to elect the members of the National Assembly, only 40.75 percent of the electorate had cast a ballot -- one of the lowest levels in the first round of a parliamentary poll in six decades.

Macron has enjoyed a political honeymoon since he beat far-right candidate Marine Le Pen to become France's youngest-ever president on May 7.

He has won 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's decision to withdraw from a global climate accord.

But in order to push through the ambitious labour, economic and social reforms he promised on the campaign trail he needs a clear majority in parliament.

A host of opinion polls show that his untested year-old Republique en Marche (Republic on the Move, REM) party could take 30 percent of the first-round vote, putting it on track to secure a landslide in next Sunday's run-off round.

The centre-right Republicans and the Socialists fear heavy losses after their candidates failed to reach the presidential run-off for the first time in France's postwar history.
Some predictions indicate REM could win as many as 400 seats in the 577-seat chamber, with voters seeking to give the new president a strong mandate.

The party is already leading in 10 of 11 French overseas constituencies, which held their first-round vote last weekend.

On Sunday, Macron posed for selfies with well-wishers after voting in the northern resort of Le Touquet where he and his 64-year-old wife Brigitte have a home.
Few MPs are expected to be elected in the first round.

If no candidate wins over 50 percent, the two top-placed contenders go into the second round -- along with any other candidate who garners at least 12.5 percent of registered voters.

Polling stations in the largest cities are open until 8:00 pm (1800 GMT) with exit polls released immediately afterwards.

More than 50,000 police were on patrol in a country still jittery after a wave of jihadist attacks that have killed more than 230 people since 2015.

In the latest incident, a 40-year-old self-radicalised Algerian was shot and wounded after he attacked a policeman with a hammer outside Paris's Notre Dame cathedral on Tuesday.

Macron, who had never held elected office before becoming president, has run novices seeking to emulate his success in around 200 constituencies -- part of his bid to inject new blood in French politics.

They include Marie Sara, a retired bullfighter, who is taking on Gilbert Collard, a senior member of Le Pen's National Front in southern France.

The Socialists' demise could come into sharp focus if its leader Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, 65, is ousted from his Paris seat by REM junior minister Mounir Mahjoubi, who is just 33.

Macron is also trying to usher in an era of cleaner politics. His government's first bill proposes to ban lawmakers from employing family members or performing consultancy work while in office.

The measures follow the scandal that destroyed the presidential bid of Republicans candidate Francois Fillon, who has been charged over payments to his wife and two of his children for suspected fake jobs as parliamentary assistants.
Fillon denies the charges.

Two parties, Le Pen's National Front and the small centrist MoDem party, an REM ally, are meanwhile under investigation over alleged expenses fraud at the European Parliament.

One of Macron's ministers who is running for re-election in Brittany, Richard Ferrand, is also being probed over a property deal involving his girlfriend.

Le Pen's party looks set to struggle to win the 15 seats it would need to form a parliamentary group, a result that would be another deep disappointment after her defeat by Macron.

But this week she struck a bullish note, telling AFP in the northern town of Henin-Beaumont where she is running for a seat, that with other parties likely to agree to work with Macron, "we will be the only opposition force."

The radical-left France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party of Jean-Luc Melenchon is also hoping to perform strongly.

Macron has urged voters to back his reform proposals including an overhaul of the rigid rules governing the job market, blamed by many economists for holding back growth.
The president was economy minister in the Socialist government that began loosening the labour laws last year, sparking mass demonstrations that lasted for months.

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