PARIS: Emmanuel Macron’s ascent to the French presidency caps a stunning rise for the political newcomer but he now faces another battle to form a parliamentary majority, with his rivals already plotting revenge in June’s general election.
Macron won 66 percent of the vote in Sunday’s presidential run-off against the far right’s Marine Le Pen, the biggest win by a French president since Jacques Chirac’s victory over Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie in 2002.
But he faces a tall order to secure the majority he needs to push through his ambitious agenda of labour, welfare and education reforms.
Le Pen’s National Front (FN) and the other election losers are all hell bent on bouncing back in the parliamentary vote.
French voters have traditionally rallied around the newly elected president in the general election held weeks later.
But for the first time in the country’s post-war history, France’s new leader does not have a big party machine behind him, after the two main parties, the Republicans and Socialists, crashed out in the first round of the presidential election.
‘Majority for change’
Macron, 39, founded his centrist En Marche (On The Move) movement of mostly political neophytes just a year ago on a promise to inject new blood into France’s discredited political class.
Half of his candidates for the 577 seats up for grabs in the two-round June 11-June 18 National Assembly election will be political newcomers, he has said.
The other half will be made up of figures from the allied centrist Modem party and defectors from the left-wing Socialists and right-wing Republicans who can keep their existing party membership and still run under the slogan “Republique En Marche”.
Macron’s team has expressed confidence he can win an outright majority of 289 seats, despite the electorate being split four ways between the centre, the right, the far-right and the left.
“This majority for change is what the country wants and what it deserves,” Macron told supporters on Sunday.
Philippe Braud, political analyst at Sciences Po university in Paris, said Macron’s decisive win meant an outright majority — deemed highly improbable just a few weeks ago — was “not impossible”.
Two polls showed that En Marche would top the first round of the June election with 24-26 percent of the vote, ahead of the Republicans with 22 percent and the FN 21-22 percent.
The France Insoumise (France Unbowed) of firebrand leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon was trailing in fourth with 13-15 percent, ahead of the tattered Socialists of outgoing President Francois Hollande on eight-nine percent.
Within minutes of Sunday’s results, a defeated Le Pen sounded the charge for her next battle against the “globalist” Macron.
Claiming a “massive” result of 10.64 million votes — a record for the FN — she promised “a profound transformation” of the party to grow its appeal.
“I call on all patriots to join us,” she said.
France’s two-round voting system makes it difficult to project the final result, with parliamentary elections often yielding several three-way races where two parties ally against a third, typically the National Front.
But Le Pen’s high score showed that resistance to the party is fizzling out, meaning the FN can hope to significantly improve on its current tally of two seats in parliament.
Macron’s biggest challenge however is likely to come from the conservative Republicans, still smarting from defeat in a presidential election that was theirs for the taking before their candidate Francois Fillon became embroiled in an expenses scandal.
“The resistance of the right is the main danger for Macron,” said Braud.
On Sunday, Francois Baroin, a leader of the Republicans, said the party was aiming for an “outright majority” in June — a scenario that would force the centrist Macron into a “cohabitation” with a right-wing government.
Republicans vice-president Laurent Wauquiez emphasised Macron’s vulnerability, noting he had been a grudging choice of president for many voters, who backed him only to block Le Pen.
“Macron is a giant with feet of clay, elected without real desire of enthusiasm,” he said.
Anti-capitalist candidate Melenchon — who won seven million votes in the April 23 first round — is also angling for the consolation prize of opposition leader.
Braud warned that a high score by his Unbowed rebels, who have vowed to block Macron’s labour reforms, could make for an “ungovernable assembly”.
Macron aims to neuter the opposition by luring moderates from both left and right.
Several veteran Socialists have already said they are ready to work with him.