France holds parliamentary elections in crucial test for Macron

PARIS — French voters choose lawmakers in parliamentary elections on Sunday, as President Emmanuel Macron wants to secure his majority amid threats from a left-wing coalition.

More than 6,000 candidates, ranging in age from 18 to 92, will compete for 577 seats in the National Assembly in the first round of the election. Those who receive the most votes will advance to the deciding second round on June 19.

While candidates have tried to allay consumer concerns about inflation, which has been a key campaign theme, voter enthusiasm has generally been low. That was reflected in Sunday’s early turnout figures, which showed that only 18% of France’s 48.7 million voters had cast their votes by noon.

Far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who hopes the election will cast him to the post of prime minister, was one of the few voters when he cast his vote in a diverse neighborhood of Marseille, a southern port city.

On the opposite coast of France, a small crowd gathered to watch Macron arrive to vote in the Channel seaside town of Le Touquet.

Following Macron’s re-election in May, his centrist coalition is aiming for an absolute majority that would allow it to deliver on its campaign promises, including tax cuts and raising the retirement age from 62 to 65.

But the latest polls suggest Macron and his allies may struggle to win more than half of the parliamentary seats. A government with a large, but not an absolute majority, could still rule, but only by negotiating with lawmakers.

The main opposition force appears to be Mélenchon’s newly formed coalition, made up of leftists, greens and communists. The coalition’s platform includes a significant increase in the minimum wage, a lowering of the retirement age to 60 and a fix in energy prices.

Mélenchon, an anti-globalization brand that has called on France to withdraw from NATO and “disobey EU rules”, urged voters to give his coalition a majority, thereby forcing Macron to take over as prime minister which would lead to a situation called “cohabitation.”

While Mélenchon’s coalition could win more than 200 seats, current projections suggest little chance of a majority in the National Assembly on the left. Macron and his allies are expected to win between 260 and 320 seats, according to the latest polls.

The National Assembly has the final say on the Senate when it comes to voting in laws.

Outside a polling station in a working-class district of Paris, voters debated whether to support Macron’s party for the sake of smooth governance and fend off extremist views, or to back his opponents to ensure more political perspectives are heard.

“Having a parliament that’s not quite aligned with the government allows for more interesting conversations and discussions,” said Dominique Debarre, retired scientist. “But on the other hand, cohabitation is always somehow the sign of failure.”

The two-round voting system is complex and disproportionate to national support for a party. Legislators are elected by district.

Parliamentary elections have traditionally been a difficult race for France’s far-right candidates. Rivals from other parties coordinate or step aside to increase the chances of the opponents of the far-right candidates in the second round.

The party led by Marine Le Pen, Macron’s runner-up in the presidential election, hopes to do better in the National Rally than it did five years ago when it won eight seats. With at least 15 seats, the far right would be allowed to form a parliamentary group and gain more powers in the assembly.

Le Pen is herself a candidate for re-election in her stronghold of Henin-Beaumont, in northern France, where she cast her vote with a beaming smile.

Voters also vote in France’s overseas territories. The last polls close at 8pm (1800 GMT), with the first polling station projections shortly after.

Jeffrey Schaeffer in Paris, Daniel Cole in Marseille and Alex Turnbull in Le Touquet, France contributed.

Leave a Comment