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Macron's Party on Track for Large Majority in French Vote

12 Jun 2017 1:51 am
By William Horobin 

PARIS -- Emmanuel Macron's upstart centrist party won the first round of parliamentary elections on Sunday, positioning the new French president to wield an overwhelming majority at home and push for change on the European stage.

Mr. Macron's La République en Marche and its centrist ally, MoDem, won 32.3% of the vote nationwide, the Interior Ministry said. The center-right Les Républicains and its allies came in second with 21.6% of the vote.

The first-round vote puts Mr. Macron's party and MoDem on track to win a majority of 415 to 455 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly in the second-round vote a week from now, polling firm Ipsos Sopra-Steria said.

The top two vote-getters in each district on Sunday advance to the second-round runoff, as well as candidates who garner support from more than 12.5% of registered voters, though reaching that threshold may be difficult given low turnout on Sunday. The Interior Ministry said 51.3% of registered voters didn't vote, which Ipsos Sopra-Steria said is the highest percentage of abstentions on record for a legislative election in France.

More voters are expected to switch in the second round to candidates from La République en Marche, as a centrist party, than to candidates from parties on the right or the left, polling firms said.

Such a landslide would deliver a coup de grace to France's political establishment, giving Mr. Macron a strong mandate to implement policies he says are needed to stir the sluggish national economy and overhaul the European Union.

"It's the end of a system that French people don't want to see any longer," said Mounir Mahjoubi, the 33-year-old digital economy minister who is running for Mr. Macron's party in a Paris district.

In little more than a year, the 39-year-old Mr. Macron has founded his own political party; populated it mostly with political neophytes; and persuaded voters to hand him what is shaping up to be one of the largest Assembly majorities in French history.

If the party and its ally win 415 to 455 seats, it would be the largest majority since the center-right won a 472-seat majority in 1993.

A commanding legislative victory would also cement Mr. Macron's stature among European leaders. Mr. Macron and his party ran on a pro-Europe message rather than catering to nationalist constituencies.

The French election has been closely watched in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel is seeking reelection in September. British Prime Minister Theresa May's decision to call an early election in a bid to expand her parliamentary ranks and strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations badly backfired on Thursday when voters deprived her of a majority.

The National Front of far-right leader Marine Le Pen could increase its number of seats in the Assembly from one to up to 5, according to projections by Ipsos Sopra-Steria. That is a far cry from the numbers her party was seeking to mount a robust opposition to Mr. Macron.

The National Front needs a minimum of 15 seats to secure posts on parliamentary commissions and earn extra speaking slots at the Assembly. In past elections, voters have coalesced behind mainstream candidates opposing the National Front in the second round.

"Patriotic voters in districts where our candidates qualified for the second round must head to the polls in massive numbers next Sunday," Ms. Le Pen said.

Ms. Le Pen said she had qualified for the runoff in a district in northern France.

The Socialist Party, the outgoing majority at the Assembly, won only 7.4% of the vote, putting it and allies on track to win between 20 and 30 seats, according to the projections. Les Républicains, which formed the largest opposition, was set to win between 70 and 110 seats with its allies, according to the projections.

François Baroin, leader of the campaign for Les Républicains, said his party suffered from the low turnout and called on voters to "wake up" for the second round to elect a large opposition to Mr. Macron.

"Our country wants balanced powers that are not concentrated in one single party," Mr. Baroin said.

Mr. Macron's first order of business is loosening France's rigid labor code. In July, his government will seek the backing of parliament to give companies more power to negotiate working conditions with employees and reduce uncertainty for employers making layoffs.

The French president is betting that such overhauls will strengthen his hand to push Germany and other wealthy Northern European nations to share the burdens of weaker eurozone members.

That kind of deal, Mr. Macron says, is key to "refounding Europe" as a bloc of countries that protects citizens rather than leaving them vulnerable to the competition of global markets.

"We've gotten used to managing Europe. If we continue just managing it, it will fall apart," Mr. Macron said in May on his first trip to Brussels as president.

Germany, Europe's biggest economy, has long been leery of French calls for more sharing of resources in the eurozone, seeing that as a veiled demand for German money. But Ms. Merkel has signaled she wants to work closely with Mr. Macron on deeper European integration, even though proposals that smack too clearly of fiscal transfers are likely to be off limits.

Write to William Horobin at William.Horobin@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 11, 2017 21:51 ET (01:51 GMT)

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