En Marche marches on

En Marche, the fledgling political party created by French President Emanuel Macron, rolled up impressive margins in the first round of parliamentary elections this weekend. With 90 percent of voters accounted for, Macron’s party had 32 percent support; the Conservative Republican party 18 percent; Marine Le Pen’s National Front slightly less than 14 percent; and the Socialists a mere 7.5 percent.

Most importantly, pollsters estimate that this weekend’s vote presages a rout in the run-off election. Indeed, some believe that Macron’s alliance could capture three-quarters of the seats in the lower house after next week’s second round. Not since the days of Charles DeGaulle almost 50 years ago has a party dominated the French parliament to that extent.

This weekend’s voting was light by French standards. At 48.6 percent, it reached a record low for parliamentary elections in the Fifth Republic (established in 1958). Most observers attribute this showing to “election fatigue,” although there haven’t been more elections than normal this year, to my knowledge.

It’s possible that turnout will increase significantly in the second round and conceivable that higher turnout will significantly favor non-En Marche candidates. I wouldn’t count on it, though.

How will Macron use his parliamentary majority? He says he will use it to enact major economic and social reforms, including an easing of stringent labor laws and reform of an unwieldy pension system. His stated agenda is pro-business and probably not that different in some key respects than what the conservative party favors. Indeed, if Macron proceeds as he advertises, one would expect him to pick up votes from Republican members of parliament in addition, of course, to members of En Marche.

In the past, however, pension and labor law reform have encountered fierce resistance, including in the street. If you’re planning on visiting France, consider going before Macron pushes for his reforms. Otherwise, your visit may be marred by strikes and large demonstrations.

Speaking of which, the parliamentary elections reconfirmed the parlous state of France’s Socialist party. Its candidates fail to reach 8 percent of the vote. Its chief, Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, failed to make it to the run-off in his long-held Paris seat. Its presidential candidate, the hapless Benoit Hamon, was also eliminated from his race.

As a new party, En Marche fielded a larger than usual contingent of political novices, many of whom are likely to be elected next week. This prompted one supporter to call the election “a renewal of the political class.”

I love the realism of that statement. In the U.S., when novices win office in large numbers, we pretend that the “political class” has been replaced, at least partially. In France, they understand that the political class has merely been refreshed.


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