Macron marches on
French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron leave a polling booth as they vote in the first round of the two-stage legislative elections on Sunday. Photograph: AP Photo/Thibault Camus
In April 2016, Emmanuel Macron, a young and talented technocrat with no political base or electoral experience, set up an insurgent political movement as a vehicle for his unlikely campaign for the French presidency. Just over a year later, Macron is in the Élysée Palace and, judging by the results of the first round of legislative elections on Sunday, his movement is set to complete an astonishing feat by winning three quarters of seats in the National Assembly.
Macron has effected a revolution in French politics. His La République en Marche, a fledgling group whose line-up of political newcomers includes a former fighter pilot, a mathematician and an ex-bullfighter, is projected to go from zero to as many as 455 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly, giving it and its allies one of France’s biggest majority in decades. The two blocs that have dominated French politics for half a century have been humiliated. The centre-right Les Républicains is set to lose 100 seats, returning with between 70 and 110, while the Socialist Party and its allies suffered an ignominious collapse that could leave them with as few as 20 seats. It was also a bad day for the far-right Front National, which will struggle to reach the 15 seats that would have given the party more speaking rights and influence.
In redrawing the country’s political map, Macron has further enhanced his standing at home and abroad and given himself ample space to implement his agenda. But the manner and scale of his victory will bring its own problems. Governments benefit from rigorous parliamentary scrutiny. Having crushed the opposition, the Élysée will inevitably be prone to complacency. And if opposing voices have no outlet in parliament, where will they be heard?
In addition, Macron’s mandate is cast in a different light by a record low turnout of 49 per cent, depressed partly by electoral fatigue and the apparent inevitability of the outcome. He may not face much of an opposition, but the president would be wrong to interpret the result as an unqualified, universal endorsement.