'Macron-mania' prompts talk of herd mentality

A Catholic nun voting at a polling station in Nantes, western France, yesterday. About half of REM's candidates are newcomers to politics, drawn from diverse fields of academia, business or local activism.
A Catholic nun voting at a polling station in Nantes, western France, yesterday. About half of REM's candidates are newcomers to politics, drawn from diverse fields of academia, business or local activism.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

New French President's REM party set to win 470 out of 577 seats, among the biggest majorities in decades

PARIS • The theory has been aired several times over the past week: French voters are so desperate for change and for new President Emmanuel Macron to succeed that they are blindly electing his party's candidates to Parliament.

Polls suggested that Mr Macron's Republic on the Move (REM) party and its allies were set to win up to 470 seats out of 577 in parliamentary elections yesterday, one of the biggest majorities in decades.

The results will be known by this morning Singapore time.

Political analyst Christophe Barbier suggested after the first round of voting in parliamentary elections a week ago that "you could take a goat and give it Macron's endorsement and it would have a good chance of being elected".

Senior left-wing journalist Edwy Plenel expressed the same sentiment, saying that even "donkeys" would be carried to power by the Macron wave - such was its force.

"Absolute power is a danger," he warned.

In line with the 39-year-old's presidential campaign pledges, around half of REM's candidates are newcomers to politics, drawn from diverse fields of academia, business or local activism. Around half are women.

The result is likely to be a national assembly that is younger, more female and more ethnically diverse than ever before.

But also more inexperienced and perhaps less willing to stand up to the all-powerful President.

Defeated candidates in last weekend's voting also took up the animal-themed commentary about the strength of anti-establishment feeling and support for Mr Macron's candidates.

Mr Samuel Sharifzadeh, a 66-year-old voting in south-west Paris, said he backed Mr Macron in the presidential election but supported an opposition figure yesterday to encourage a counterweight in Parliament. Retired businessman Patrick Depardon, 65, said he was dismayed at the prospect of sitting MPs with a good track record being voted out, merely to fulfil the desire for renewal. "We're throwing the baby out with the bathwater," he said.

Mr Eduardo Rihan Cypel, a defeated Socialist from northern France, said an REM-sponsored "hippopotamus" would have beaten him in his constituency.

Party colleague Alexis Bachelay sniffed that a Macron-aligned "field mouse" could get 40 per cent in the current climate.

In some areas in Paris, stickers of goats have been placed on the posters of REM candidates outside polling stations, while right-wing opponents online have taken up the theme on Twitter.

One target this week was Ms Olivia Gregoire, who is standing for a constituency seat in wealthy south-west Paris and whose posters, like most REM candidates, feature Mr Macron's face prominently.

The entrepreneur looked on course for victory yesterday after winning 47 per cent in the first round of the parliamentary election last week against veteran right-winger Philippe Goujon, who has held the seat since 2007.

"The desire for change is really strong, which means that people have less concern about voting for someone they don't know," said Mr Romain Perron, a 33-year-old who works in finance, after casting his vote.

Most booths closed at midnight, though local prefects could allow voting to continue until 2am Singapore time today, when the first results were reported.

Mr Macron's success has been partly built on the overwhelming desire of voters to cast out the familiar faces of France's political class who are blamed for years of low growth, corruption, social tensions and high unemployment.

The former investment banker was unknown three years ago and started his political movement only in April last year, promising to modernise France's social security system and promote entrepreneurship.

Other supporters said that the animal comparisons were condescending towards voters and ignored the fact that other presidents won huge majorities in 1968, 1981 or 2002.

Following a referendum in 2000, France's electoral calendar was modified to place the parliamentary polls immediately after the presidential one with the explicit aim of giving the new president a working majority.

Furthermore, many REM candidates - especially those in rural constituencies - are known locally, living in the area or working for local associations.

Others are not convinced, worried that Mr Macron will have too much power and face no scrutiny from a Parliament packed with loyalists who owe their election success to him.

Mr Samuel Sharifzadeh, a 66-year-old voting in south-west Paris, said he backed Mr Macron in the presidential election but supported an opposition figure yesterday to encourage a counterweight in Parliament.

Retired businessman Patrick Depardon, 65, said he was dismayed at the prospect of sitting MPs with a good track record being voted out, merely to fulfil the desire for renewal.

"We're throwing the baby out with the bathwater," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 19, 2017, with the headline ''Macron-mania' prompts talk of herd mentality'. Print Edition | Subscribe