France's president-elect Emmanuel Macron is applying the oldest principle in politics, divide and rule, as he draws up his government prior to the June 11th and 18th legislative elections.
The Parti Socialiste (PS) and conservative Les Républicains (LR) held more than four-fifths of the seats in the outgoing National Assembly.
Macron’s En Marche! movement, which he renamed “La République en Marche” on Monday, had no seats, because it didn’t exist when elections lasttook place five years ago.
If Macron can lure away sufficient numbers of PS and LR deputies, either to stand on his new party’s ticket or to support him in coalition, he will be able to carry out his programme.
The new president received a major boost on Tuesday when the former socialist prime minister Manuel Valls announced that he will seek to stand as an En Marche! candidate in his home constituency of Evry, south of Paris.
"I want Emmanuel Macron to succeed," Valls told RTL radio. "Today, the most important thing is to give him a broad, coherent majority without future frondeurs [rebels] . . . so he can govern." Valls has belonged to the PS for his entire adult life. "The socialist party is dead. It's behind us," he said.
Officials at La République en Marche said Valls must undergo the same vetting as other candidates and had only 24 hours to apply. Macron’s party will release the names of candidates in all 577 constituencies on Thursday morning. Its criteria are renewal, gender parity, political pluralism, probity and a commitment to support Macron’s programme.
Socialist frondeurs blighted the outgoing administration, and Macron wants to be certain of avoiding a repeat. Half of Macron's candidates are non-career politicians. Half are women.
Valls appears to have set aside harsh feelings towards Macron in the interests of the country. As prime minister he supported Macron’s appointment as economy minister in 2014 because he thought Macron would help him convince President François Hollande to carry out liberal economic reforms. Hollande wanted Macron as a counterfoil to Valls, whose popularity threatened his own chances of re-election. In the end, Macron outsmarted them both.
The PS met on Tuesday to adopt a watered-down version of Benoît Hamon’s presidential programme as its platform for the legislative elections. Hamon, the PS candidate, won a miserable 6.36 per cent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election on April 23rd.
Party faithful were infuriated by Valls’s defection. Secretary-general Jean-Christophe Cambadélis said it was “impossible” for Valls to remain a socialist while standing as an En Marche! candidate. Hamon’s supporters said the party should field candidates against Valls and against all socialists who joined Macron’s camp.
Hamon's faction wants to unite with ecologists, communists and the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon's France Unbowed to form a hard-left opposition to Macron. Their attitude was summed up by the front-page headline of the communist daily L'Humanité on Tuesday: "Emmanuel Macron's first target is you!"
Macron’s election has pulverised the PS, which hopes to obtain at best 80 seats out of 577. Estimates range as low as 30.
The conservatives of LR are similarly divided between a desire to work with Macron and striving to achieve a majority of 289 seats so they could force him to name François Baroin, the leader of LR’s legislative campaign, as prime minister. Experts say an LR majority is unlikely.
Macron could undermine Baroin by naming a moderate LR politician such as Xavier Bertrand or Édouard Philippe as his prime minister, as early as May 15th. Macron has said he wants to keep the same prime minister after the elections.
Bruno Le Maire, who was a candidate in the LR primary for the presidential election, offered to serve the new administration on the night of Macron's election. He said: "What fundamental difference is there between our ideas on deregulating the economy, supporting business and European construction and Emmanuel Macron's ideas?"
Le Maire, like Valls, has been threatened with expulsion from his party. Christian Estrosi, who has just announced he is relinquishing the LR presidency of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region to resume his old job as mayor of Nice, has also made overtures to En Marche!
LR met on Tuesday to agree on a platform that would fire fewer civil servants and abandon the most severe elements of the programme of its defeated candidate, François Fillon, including a rise in VAT.
"The pieces on the political chessboard are moving before our eyes," says Laurent Joffrin, director of Libération newspaper. "If Macron gets a majority . . . instead of a little centre crushed between right and left, we will have a big centre crushing the right and the left."
A study shortly before the presidential runoff predicted that En Marche! would obtain between 249 and 286 seats in the National Assembly, very close to the magical number of 289 seats required for an absolute majority.