With the first exit polls announced at 8 pm Paris time, the party of French President Emmanuel Macron, President Trump's least favorite European leader, is now projected to have won a decisive majority of the seats in French parliament.
Macron Wins French Parliamentary Majority Amid Record Low Turnout | Zero Hedge https://t.co/78etfYjqw0— Alexander Avella III (@Cancersucks6486) June 18, 2017
Just over a year ago, La République En Marche, the new center-left party founded by now-39-year-old upstart Emmanuel Macron, didn’t even exist. Trying to become the youngest president in French history was one thing; creating an entire party to take over the parliament — giving him the actual power to govern — was another thing entirely. Experts pontificated that in the unlikely event Macron were able to actually win the presidency, once in office he would potentially be severely hampered by the rather radical handicap of representing a party that boasted a tiny minority of seats in parliament and thus no real legislative power.
But today, in the second round of a two-tier election system for parliamentarians, En Marche is projected to have won some 361 seats in the 557-seat parliament, meaning Macron has now not only surpassed expectations in his presidential bid but also is now fully in control of the French political landscape. The only damper on that incredible victory is what appears to be a radically depressed voter turnout, with only some 42 percent of eligible voters stepping up to the ballot box. (Indeed, some predictions were for an even higher En Marche win — that those numbers didn’t hit above 400 seats may be reflective of that lower voter turnout.)
After a landslide victory on May 7 in the battle for the presidency, Macron set to work ensuring that he would also actually have a mandate to rule. He ramped up a recruiting effort to draw new blood into politics, convincing dozens and dozens of first-time would-be parliamentarians to give politics a chance, attracted former members of other parties, and, in so doing, absolutely crushed the two longtime mainstream parties — the conservative Republicans (who took a projected 126 seats) and the Socialists, who have been thoroughly trounced, dropping from 280 seats to an approximate 46 seats.
Meanwhile, the far-right National Front’s parliamentary representation can claim a mere eight seats today. Marine Le Pen, the former presidential candidate and Macron’s onetime rival, won a local seat herself — but on the national stage, she is now barely hanging on to a political life. The FN won 34 percent in the presidential elections, far lower than many suspected it would take, due in part to Le Pen’s shoddy performance in an acrimonious late debate. She promised in her concession speech to lead the opposition. That’s never seemed less likely than today.
“It's a stunning success. It’s incredible, really. This party was set up in April 2016,” Philippe Le Corre of the Brookings Institution’s Center for the United States and Europe said on Friday, thinking back on the first round of parliamentary voting and in anticipation of the second. “Having been able to recruit hundreds of people from the civil society to run for parliament in a few weeks really is just stunning.”
Le Corre is not the only one impressed. “Less than a year ago, this guy was not even in government,” says Jeremy Shapiro of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “He had this crazy idea of running for president, and he blew the doors off the entire French establishment and singlehandedly destroyed the French political structure. He wiped out the Socialist Party. He mortally wounded the Republicans. And he is in a position to become an incredibly powerful French president.”
Meanwhile, Macron is also positioning himself as a global player. He stood up to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, calling the Russian news outlets RT and Sputnik news “agencies of influence and propaganda, lying propaganda,” while standing next to Putin at a press conference. He has positioned himself as Trump’s direct opponent on climate change, has made it very clear his allegiances lie with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on international issues, and has cheekily presented France as a viable alternative for scientists and globalists seeking to escape Trump’s America.
Now he hopes his party’s sweep into parliament will allow him to enact some of the reforms he ran on, namely changing the French labor laws to encourage flexibility in hiring (and firing) and streamlining and centralizing how unions negotiate.
The only problem? Abstention voting. It haunted the presidential election, and Sunday’s voter turnout — while high by American standards — was remarkably low for France. That could prove a problem if his reforms seem too radical to the public that simply didn’t turn out to vote.
But wait, how did this parliament come about?
How did a brand new party field a sprawling group of brand new politicians and sweep the legislative elections? “There is a strong demand for renewal," Jerome Fourquet, a polling analyst for the market research firm IFOP, told USA Today last week.
To understand what that means in practical terms, meet one of those new parliamentarians, who herself embodies some of the spirit and nimble nouveau thinking of Macron’s movement that has energized the country: Amélie de Montchalin. De Montchalin won 61.22 percent of the vote representing En Marche in Essonne, a region about an hour south of Paris, where her family has farmed for the past century. De Montchalin is just shy of 32 years old, a first-time politician, and she took on — and triumphed over — a field of longtime politicians from mainstream parties.
En Marche first put out a call for potential candidates back in late January, de Montchalin told me in an interview Friday afternoon. Potential candidates answered the call to action and were asked to write an application of sorts, explaining why they were qualified and interested. De Montchalin said she received texts from several friends the moment the call went out. She seemed perfect to run, her friends insisted. In her application, she referenced John F. Kennedy — “Ask what you can do” — because she is a Kennedy School alumna, and that motto had been on the wall during the two years she worked on a degree in Boston.
De Montchalin is a graduate of both France’s prestigious HEC business school and the Sorbonne as well as Harvard’s Kennedy School. She’s never held public office but has worked for the bank BNP Paribas. While she once considered herself on the center right of the French political spectrum, she was never entirely comfortable; by late fall 2016, she says, she had quickly grown deeply disenchanted with François Fillon, the candidate chosen by the Republican Party. She was drawn to the spirit and energy of Emmanuel Macron’s campaign.
(De Montchalin is also a mother of three — a 6-year-old and 3.5-year-old twins — which she says makes her particularly up for challenges.)
“I ran because I was feeling aligned with the political platform,” she said, when I asked if she would have run with any other party or any other president. In other words: Her decision to run was all about the mission of en Marche and Macron himself.
Macron, she says, privileged skill and added value over loyalty or political experience, which was something she was particularly attracted to. “He wanted a government based on skills and not on political past history,” she says.
She elaborates: “For many decades, both ministers and members of parliament were chosen because they were loyal local officials and [often] noisy ones.”
De Montchalin explains something else that was a draw: She liked that Macron seemed to embody the very lessons she had learned at Harvard, “which was the method to lead reform from platform to results.” Plus, she adds, “I was following what Macron was doing, which was in my mind humanist, reformist, and European.”
Not only did Macron’s ideas, platform, and youthful verve encourage de Montchalin to run — they also apparently encouraged the region to choose her over the others running, including the Socialist candidate Jérôme Guedj, a former spokesperson for Benoît Hamon, the erstwhile Socialist candidate for president who was thoroughly trounced in the first round of the French elections. Guedj himself was a longtime politician. In round one, de Montchalin knocked him out of the running entirely when she took 38.8 percent of the votes. Today her closest opponent had 38.77 percent of the vote to her 61.22 percent.
(The tweet above reads: Thank you! We have so much to do. You can count on my involvement and my energy in service to the transformation of France. Below it says: Thank you for the confidence of the voters in Circo9106 (her region). We have so much to do. 5 years to transform France.)
As NPR reported earlier this week, de Montchalin’s experience —- of a novice Macronist easily winning seats challenged by longtime politicians — was repeated across the country. And as the New York Times explained on Saturday, many of the new En Marche candidates are like De Montchalin: extremely well-educated and upper class.
What will Macron do with a majority? And does it really mean he has a mandate?
It’s most likely that Macron will try to pass a relatively targeted labor reform bill as soon as possible. After all, though members of parliament, like the president, have five-year terms, Macron’s power will be at its highest this week, when everything is ahead of him. His shine right now is unbelievably bright.
But there are those who will grumble about how this came about. Voter turnout — while still higher than in America — was at a nationwide low during the first round of French parliamentary elections two weeks ago. Abstention, an issue during the presidential election, played a role here too. As the New York Times reported on Saturday, abstention was so high in the first round that efforts to pursue truly aggressive reform may meet opposition from those who don’t feel the Macron agenda suits them but simply didn’t see a viable alternative and so sat out elections altogether.
Today, however, En Marche can justifiably celebrate a radical new chapter in French history.