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Macron's Party on Track for Majority in French Vote

11 Jun 2017 6:08 pm
By William Horobin 

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

Mr. Macron's La République en Marche won 32.2% of the vote nationwide, according to projections by polling firm Ipsos Sopra-Steria based on a partial count of votes. The center-right Les Républicains and its allies came second with 21.5% of the vote.

The first-round vote puts Mr. Macron's party on track to win a majority of 390 to 430 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly in the second-round vote a week from now, Ipsos Sopra-Steria said.

The top two vote-getters in each district on Sunday advance to the second round, 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. 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.

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 a large majority in the Assembly.

A commanding legislative victory would also cement Mr. Macron's stature among European leaders, indicating voters are ready to rally behind politicians who run 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 is likely to increase its number of seats in the Assembly from one to between 3 and 10, according to projections by Ipsos Sopra-Steria. But 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 candidates opposing the National Front in the second round.

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 14:08 ET (18:08 GMT)

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