French election: Macron team complete rout with Assembly win

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Image source, LREM/Getty
Image caption, Among the new women MPs from civil society are Typhanie Degois (L), Brigitte Liso (C) and Mireille Robert

French President Emmanuel Macron is celebrating a convincing victory in National Assembly elections that gives him the mandate to push through wide-ranging social and economic reforms.

Three-quarters of the assembly are new members and a record 223 of the 577 MPs are women.

Mr Macron's fledgling La République en Marche (LREM) won 308 seats with 43% of the vote.

But the 42.64% turnout is a record low for modern-day France.

And of the 20 million French who did vote, almost 10% left their ballots blank or spoilt.

Together with its centrist MoDem allies, LREM now forms a bloc of 350 seats, well over the 289 seats needed to control parliament.

Just how staggering is this result?

The election result means that a party that only began life in April 2016 now has complete control of France's lower house of parliament and that means the president can press on with steering through his broad programme of reform.

"He now has his majority, beyond all his hopes," warned commentator Etienne Lefebvre. "Undoubtedly that will make his task easier but it'll also increase expectation."

In line with tradition, the government, formed last month under Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, resigned on Monday in a post-election formality.

The president then reappointed Mr Philippe as prime minister and asked him to form a new cabinet.

The old political guard in the assembly is a shadow of its former self. The centre-right Republican-led grouping has 137 seats, and the outgoing Socialists 44.

For the first time, the far-left La France Insoumise (France unbowed) enters parliament with 27 seats while the far-right National Front (FN) has increased its number to eight, including leader Marine Le Pen.

So who are the ones to watch?

Never has the French parliament had so many women MPs - 38.65% of the total - and that is largely down to President Macron's policy of equal gender selection. In his party alone, 47% of deputies are women.

Many of LREM's MPs have come from across civil society:

  • The youngest in the party is law graduate Typhanie Degois, aged 24
  • Renowned mathematician Cédric Villani, 43, is known for his unique dress sense including large spider brooches
  • Former police commander Jean-Michel Fauvergue led the elite RAID unit's response to the jihadist attack on the Bataclan in Paris
Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, Former police commander Jean-Michel Fauvergue, tech entrepreneur Mounir Mahjoubi and mathematician Cédric Villani are among the best known LREM figures to enter the assembly
  • Tech entrepreneur Mounir Mahjoubi is one of the leading lights of the Macron team, and behind his impressive digital campaign
  • Economist Hervé Berville survived the Rwandan genocide
  • Paris barrister Laetitia Avia has been active in projects in sub-Saharan Africa

Other LREM deputies include éclair entrepreneur Brigitte Liso, organic farmer Sandrine Le Feur, head teacher Mireille Robert and entrepreneur Patrice Perrot.

Image source, AFP
Image caption, Economist Hervé Berville, an orphan from the Rwandan genocide, eased to victory in Brittany

Who will fight Macron all the way?

FN leader Marine Le Pen was Mr Macron's main challenger for the presidency and before now has never held a parliamentary seat. While her close adviser Florian Philippot failed to get elected, she is joined by her partner, Louis Alliot, and another senior FN figure, Gilbert Collard.

The party has the youngest MP in Ludovic Pajot, 23. It is short of the 15 seats needed to form a parliamentary group, which has the power to set the political agenda.

Image source, AFP
Image caption, Jean-Luc Mélenchon was re-elected as an MP five years after losing his seat

Many of the loudest voices from the left have gone but Jean-Luc Mélenchon of La France Insoumise has vowed to challenge Mr Macron's plans to reform labour laws, arguing the president does not have the "legitimacy to enforce the social coup d'état he had planned".

While the unions may lead opposition outside the assembly, Mr Mélenchon says he will not cede an inch of ground without a fight.

The most powerful opposition will come from the Republicans although the rise of LREM has left their party divided. Gone are big-name leaders like Nicolas Sarkozy, François Fillon and Alain Juppé. Some in the party have offered to work with the new government but others, like Eric Ciotti, see them as traitors.

What does Macron want to do?

He has a sweeping list of reforms planned to revive France's economy, from simplifying labour laws to lowering unemployment and cutting corporation tax from 33% to 25%.

A large mandate will give him the confidence to take on France's powerful unions but a powerful challenge is likely.

The Macron government wants to make budget savings of €60bn (£51bn; $65bn), so that France sticks to the EU's government deficit limit of 3% of GDP (total output). Public servants would be cut in number by 120,000 - through natural wastage, possibly to soften opposition from France's powerful unions.

The new president would simultaneously reinvest €50bn and create a separate €10bn fund for renewing industry.

Can Macron's party keep its promises?

Image source, AFP
Image caption, Emmanuel Macron is enjoying a honeymoon period as president - but will it last?

It is clear LREM has an absolute majority, quite a feat for a party that appeared for the first time in 2016.

But the low turnout in the parliamentary elections indicates a high level of disenchantment among French voters. And the absolute majority that President Macron achieved was smaller than expected.

French commentators believe he has been given the powers to push through the reforms he promises. But voters have not handed him a blank cheque as the weakened Republicans will soon find their voice in opposition.

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