French voters are casting their ballots in the final round of parliamentary elections that could clinch President Emmanuel Macron’s hold on power, as his fledgling party appears set to rout mainstream rivals. Pollsters say that after its dominant performance in last week’s first-round vote, Mr Macron’s Republic on the Move party could win up to 450 seats on Sunday in the 577-seat National Assembly, the powerful lower chamber.
If the steamroller effect continues for Mr Macron’s party, half of whose candidates are women and half of whom are new to politics, France will have a chamber of representatives like few others, fulfilling the president’s wish to renew a political class dominated by career politicians. The strong mandate would also give the 39-year-old a free hand to move fast with promised legislation, notably on changing labour laws to make hiring and firing easier. That prospect worries both rivals and some voters, and makes the turnout rate critical.
A healthy participation rate might dampen the expected victory of Mr Macron’s party. Less than half the 47.5 million-strong electorate turned out to vote last Sunday, a record low that especially punished the once-feared far-right National Front party of Marine Le Pen, runner-up to Mr Macron for the presidency. Candidates from the conservative party, The Republicans, are expected to form the largest opposition group, with 70-110 seats, according to pollsters, with other parties sharing the rest.
The Socialists, who dominated the outgoing Assembly with 314 seats but were flattened under the unpopularity of former president Francois Hollande, could win as few as 20 seats. Mr Macron’s party has 513 candidates vying for 573 seats. Four seats were won outright in last Sunday’s first round.
Concern that opposition voices might be silenced, and pluralism allegedly diminished, by a massive pro-Macron legislature were reflected in a poll published on Thursday suggesting more than half of respondents hope the second round will “rectify the first round with a less large majority than expected”.
“This is France, not Russia,” far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon said on Friday on Europe 1 radio.
“We’re going to find ourselves with fewer opposition representatives than there are in Russia.” While Mr Melenchon is known for bold talk, his words underscored worry about an eventual all-powerful Mr Macron who, Mr Melenchon said, “is going to end up believing he walks on water”.
While French voters have handed past presidents large majorities in parliament, what is different this time is that Mr Macron’s party is splitting – and therefore weakening – the opposition. The party of Mr Melenchon, a candidate in a Marseille district, was also hit hard by the low turnout rate. But his alliance with the French Communist Party could end up giving them more seats than Ms Le Pen’s National Front – even if her party gets more votes.
The voting system punishes parties outside the mainstream, or with no mainstream allies, like Ms Le Pen’s National Front. The party is expected to win only a handful of seats despite its third-place showing in the first round. The populist Ms Le Pen, running for a parliamentary seat to represent her northern bastion around Henin-Beaumont, appears likely to win after scoring 46% of the vote in the first round.