France Gives Macron Big Majority With Little Enthusiasm
French president Emmanuel Macron won a three-fifth majority in the lower house in the second round of the legislative elections on Sunday (18 June), but less than half of voters cast a ballot.
Macron's political movement, La Republique en Marche (LRM, The Republic on the Move) won 308 seats in the National Assembly, out of 577, after obtaining 43.06 percent of the vote. Its centrist ally, the Modem party, got 40 seats (6 percent).
While not as big as expected after the first round, LRM's majority left other parties behind and completed Macron's destruction of the old political landscape.
The conservative Republicans party will be the main opposition faction, with 113 seats (22.2 percent), down from 192 in the outgoing assembly.
The party leader, Francois Baroin, said he was happy that the Republicans will be "big enough" to "make its differences with LRM heard".
The Socialist Party (PS), which had been the main party with 270 MPs, was left with 29 seats (5.68 percent).
Several ministers who served under former socialist president Francois Hollande lost out to newcomers.
The PS leader, Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, who was himself eliminated in the first round, resigned from his position.
Some 431 new MPs will enter the assembly and a record 224 of the MPs will be women.
"A year ago, no one would have imagined such a renewal of political life," prime minister Edouard Philippe said on Sunday evening.
"You gave a clear majority to the president and the government," he told voters in a TV address. He said that the majority "will have one mission: to take action for France".
He added that the government will act with "great humility and total determination".
Philippe also noted that "too many people didn't want to express themselves”, but he said that abstention gave his government a "fierce will to succeed".
The turnout on Sunday was 42.64 percent, the lowest ever in a French legislative election. Just 38.43 of voters cast a valid ballot. In the first round, the turnout was already a record low, at 48.7 percent.
Disillusion towards old parties, a will to give Macron a stable majority, as well as a lack of interest due to a lacklustre campaign - just a month after a heated presidential election - could explain French voters' apathy.
Meanwhile, the contrast between Macron's triumph in terms of seats and the number of actual voters has triggered criticism over his legitimacy.
"Our people have entered a form of general civic strike, which demonstrates the state of exhaustion of institutions that pretend to organise society with a skimpy majority that has all the powers," radical left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon said on Sunday.
Melenchon, who got 19.58 percent of votes in the first round of the presidential election in April, was elected in Marseille and will be one of Macron's staunchest opponents.
His France Unbowed party won 17 seats and could form a group with the Communist Party, which won 10 seats.
Melenchon said that the result gave Macron and Philippe "no legitimacy to commit a social coup" and added that he would call abstainers to "fight" the government.
Another vocal opponent of Macron in the National Assembly will be Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader he beat in the presidential run-off in May.
Le Pen was elected MP for the first time, in Henin-Beaumont, in Northern France, a stronghold of her National Front (FN) party.
The FN will have eight MPs (8.75 percent), up from two in the previous assembly, but far from the 15 needed to form a political group. In the first round, the party lost 7.6 million votes compared to the presidential run-off, and qualified for the second round in 122 constituencies.
"In face of a bloc that represents the interests of the oligarchy, we are the only force of resistance," Le Pen said, adding that "abstention weakens the legitimacy of [Macron's] term".
Le Pen will leave the European Parliament, where she had been elected for the first time in 2004, and where a procedure was opened recently to strip her of her immunity over suspicions that FN party members were unduly paid by the EU parliament as assistants.
Three other French MEPs were elected in France on Sunday: Le Pen's partner Louis Aliot (FN), Jean-Luc Melenchon, and Constance Le Grip (Republicans).
In a letter to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, French PM Philippe said that the new majority "embodies a France that is resolutely modern and determined to fall within a strong European future".
German chancellor Angela Merkel congratulated Macron for his "clear majority" and said that she wanted to continue the "the good cooperation" with France "for Germany, for France and for Europe".