French president Emmanuel Macron’s new party, La République En Marche (LREM), is set to take an absolute majority in the national assembly after securing 32.2 per cent of votes in the first round of legislative elections on Sunday.
That will translate into a majority of up to 440 seats out of 577 in the assembly in the second round next Sunday.
But Mr Macron’s second victory, just a month after he became France’s youngest president, was lessened by record abstention of 50.2 per cent. In their reactions, Mr Macron’s opponents focused on the high abstention rate and pleaded with supporters to mobilise strongly over the coming week.
The extreme right-wing Front National (FN), whose figurehead Marine Le Pen won 34 per cent of the vote in the presidential run-off on May 7th, won only 14 per cent of the vote on Sunday, which will give the party between three and 10 seats in the National Assembly.
The FN was plunged into crisis by Ms Le Pen’s aggressiveness in a televised debate with Mr Macron, by popular rejection of its determination to leave the euro zone, and the defection of Ms Le Pen’s niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, who refused to stand for re-election as a deputy in the national assembly.
Speaking from Hénin Beaumont, the town in northern France where she is a candidate, Ms Le Pen said the "catastrophic abstention" was the result of an electoral system that deprives millions of French citizens of representation.
"Mr Macron's party is absorbing the socialist party and [the conservative] Les Républicains, " she said, portraying the FN as a victim of collusion between LR and Mr Macron's movement.
Ms Le Pen accused the president of wanting to destroy France’s labour code and enforce austerity policies “demanded by [the German chancellor Angela] Merkel.” Under Mr Macron, “massive immigration will continue,” she warned.
Francois Baroin, who is leading LR's legislative campaign, noted that abstention has never been so high since the foundation of the Fifth Republic in 1958. LR won 21.5 per cent of the vote on Sunday, which will translate to between 85 and 125 seats in the assembly.
The first round of the presidential election, when more than half of voters chose “radical solutions” showed how fractured France is, Mr Baroin said. “These fractures have not been forgotten or erased, much less surpassed this evening,” he said.
Mr Baroin warned of "a fiscal shock equivalent to what [the former president] Francois Hollande did to the middle class".
The socialist party won less than 10 per cent of the vote, and is expected to obtain between 20 and 35 seats.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the candidate for the far-left “France Unbowed”, was pleased that his new movement, which he called “the humanist opposition of tomorrow”, won 11 per cent of the vote. The high abstention rate shows “there is no majority in this country to destroy the labour code, attack civil liberties, cajole the rich – all elements of the president’s programme.”
Prime minister Édouard Philippe, who left LR to head Mr Macron’s government, provided a different reading of the results. While he deplored the record abstention rate, Mr Philippe said: “The message of the French is unambiguous. For the third consecutive time, millions of you confirmed your attachment to the president’s project of renewal, unity and reconquest.
“France is back,” Mr Philippe continued. “For the past month, the president has embodied, in France and on the international stage, audacity and determination . . . Next Sunday, the national assembly will embody the new face of our republic, strong, united, and attentive to the needs of all.”