A party created only a year ago is on its way to controlling two-thirds of France’s National Assembly in addition to the presidency.
La Republique En Marche! (LREM, or En Marche), the party of French President Emmanuel Macron, won 32.32 percent of the vote in France’s first round of parliamentary elections Sunday. The win means that the party is all but guaranteed a supermajority in the National Assembly, France’s powerful lower house. If numbers hold in the second round of elections on June 18, En Marche could have the largest National Assembly majority in modern French history.
En Marche’s victory is good news for Macron’s pro-Europe brand of globalist politics. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, another globalist who has made an ally of Macron, quickly congratulated her French counterpart following the news. “My heartfelt congratulations to Emmanuel Macron [for] the great success of his party in the first election round,” Merkel said, according to Deutsche Welle. “Strong vote for reforms.”
Merkel wasn’t the only German to congratulate Macron. Martin Schulz, leader of the rival Social Democrats Party, also tweeted his support. “To reform Europe, he needs a majority,” Schulz wrote.
Je suis heureux pour @EmmanuelMacron. Pour réformer l'Europe, il a besoin d'une majorité – et aussi d'un nouveau gouvernement en Allemagne.
— Martin Schulz (@MartinSchulz) June 11, 2017
En Marche’s victory is a good sign for globalists, and a bad sign for France’s once-entrenched political establishment, which was already reeling from a presidential election that shattered political norms. Only a few weeks ago, the mainstream conservative Les Républicains were eyeing a victory at the polls. On Sunday, the party trailed En Marche, ultimately garnering 21.56 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, the once-mighty Socialist party of outgoing President François Hollande took barely 9.51 percent of the final tally, further cementing the party’s fall from grace.
En Marche’s victory is confusing for many on both sides of the political divide. Macron, a former banker mistrusted by anticapitalists and Euroskeptics alike, briefly served in Hollande’s government before leaving in 2016 to found En Marche. A new face in a country very used to the same parties, Macron has seen something of a reversal in fortunes recently. Going into the presidential election, Macron was a long-shot candidate, aided greatly by the scandals plaguing the center-right François Fillon and the controversies surrounding the National Front’s Marine Le Pen, whose brand of deeply xenophobic and nationalistic politics ultimately cost her at the polls. Arguably, voters seemed more determined to vote against Le Pen than for Macron, and many experts were skeptical about En Marche’s long-term chances for success.
But Sunday’s vote was an indicator that things may have changed. A number of factors could be the cause — Macron’s willingness to meet U.S. President Donald Trump face-on, along with his commitment to upholding the Paris climate agreement in the face of a U.S. exit, indicate he’s a more lively politician than many anticipated. More so than anything, however, French voters appear eager for change, even in an untried and untested form.
Also unconventional are many of the party’s members, as the New York Times noted prior to the election. Rwandan genocide survivor Hervé Berville, who is only 27 years old, joined En Marche just last month, part of a wave of new faces. In a country where less than three percent of the legislature are minorities, many of Macron’s party members are. Fifty percent are also women, more than half have never held office, and some are even younger than Berville.
“We were very sensitive to choosing candidates who reflected French society,” Jean-Paul Delevoye, the politician who led Macron’s selection committee, told the Times.
Reflecting French society seems to be going well for En Marche. France is home to around 4.7 million Muslims, many of whom trace their roots to North Africa, a region once colonized by France. Not many hold political office, but En Marche looks ready to challenge that. On Sunday, Mounir Mahjoubi, the 33-year-old son of Moroccan immigrants who became Macron’s digital affairs minister in May, unseated Socialist party leader Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, who has held the same Paris district for 20 years.
“What I was sure of when I was younger is that I wanted to spend part of my life to be useful to others,” Mahjoubi told NPR. “What better spot to be useful to others than being a member of parliament.”
His colleagues also seem grateful to the party. “That they took me, it’s really a very strong symbol,” Berville said. “It’s a symbol of renewal. The citizens are waiting. They need to be heard.”
But it isn’t all roses for En Marche. Continuing the presidential election’s pitiful turnout trend, Sunday’s vote saw the worst voter turnout in France’s history. Only 48.7 percent of French voters cast ballots, down from 57.2 percent in 2012. Macron’s opponents quickly jumped on the downward trend — Le Pen, who came in second to Macron during the presidential election, called the results “catastrophic,” while the far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon, another former presidential candidate, pointed to the numbers as a sign that “there is no majority in this country.”
Low turnout aside, En Marche will now move on to a second round of elections, held on June 18. En Marche is poised to win between 390 and 430 seats out of the 577 available.