PARIS • French voters resoundingly embraced the still untested party of newly elected President Emmanuel Macron in the first round of parliamentary elections, handing him a stronger position than any French president for a generation.
With a majority in Parliament and hundreds of lawmakers who are completely new to politics, the President looks set to hold extensive control over the levers of government.
Official final results showed Mr Macron's recently formed Republique en Marche (Republic on the Move) party, along with its ally MoDem, won 32.32 per cent of the vote on Sunday.
The two parties are tipped to win between 400 and 445 seats in the 577-member National Assembly in the second round of voting next Sunday. Such a share would give Mr Macron, 39, one of the biggest parliamentary majorities in 60 years and a strong position to enact his pro-business agenda.
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"France is back," declared Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.
If no candidate wins more than 50 per cent in a district, the two top-placed contenders go into the second round - along with any other candidate who garners at least 12.5 per cent of votes.
• There are 577 lawmakers' seats up for election, including 11 who represent French who live overseas. Each constituency represents about 125,000 inhabitants.
• If no candidate wins over 50 per cent in the first round, the two top-placed go into the second round - as well as any candidate who wins the votes of more than 12.5 per cent of the electorate.
• Only four seats were settled in the first round.
• A total of 7,882 candidates stood for election.
• More than 200 of outgoing lawmakers are not running for re-election.
• The average candidate's age is 481/2 years.
• More than 42 per cent are women. In the outgoing Parliament, women represented only 26.9 per cent of deputies, or 155 out of 577, which was itself a record.
Ms Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front suffered a severe setback. The party is forecast to win between one and 10 seats.
The result showed it is struggling to rebound from Ms Le Pen's bruising defeat by Mr Macron in the presidential run-off last month.
The right-wing Republicans - who also hoped to rebound from their humiliation in the presidential vote - took second place with a predicted 70 to 130 seats.
However, the worst losses were for the Socialists of Mr Macron's predecessor Francois Hollande and their allies, who are predicted to lose a staggering 200 seats. They look likely to retain between 20 and 35 seats of the 331 they won in 2012.
Party chief Jean-Christophe Cambadelis and failed presidential candidate Benoit Hamon lost their seats.
But the vote was also marked by record low turnout of 49 per cent.
Experts said this reflected overconfidence among some of Mr Macron's supporters, who did not bother to vote; or fatalism among Mr Macron's opponents in the face of his seemingly unstoppable advance.
Some in France are already questioning whether he has a mandate to pursue a pro-business reform agenda.
However, a spokesman for Mr Macron's government has been quick to respond. "We have to restore trust," said Mr Christophe Castaner, who is also Minister for Parliamentary Relations, yesterday.
"We don't want a majority to have an easy time of it. We want a majority that will reform," he said.
Commentators have also backed Mr Macron's critics. Neither his 24 per cent in the first round of the presidential election, nor the 50 per cent abstention on Sunday should give the illusion of a France converted to "Macronmania", said correspondent Nicolas Beytout in French daily L'Opinion.
Meanwhile, Sciences Po politics professor Bruno Cautres said: (The polling result) "doesn't necessarily mean the country is totally won over to the reforms that Macron wants to carry out".
News site Politico.eu pointed out yesterday that Mr Macron was not elected in a wave of unfettered enthusiasm, but mostly just as the presidential candidate who could beat Ms Le Pen.
Separately, BBC correspondent Hugh Scofield wrote that "the greatest danger right now for Macron and En Marche is hubris".
Phase 2 of the Macron master plan - actual reform - is the next challenge for the President; one key plank is a labour-market overhaul he promised to carry out by mid-September.
With the French economy lagging its peers, Mr Macron also wants to change tax rates and fix inequalities in the unwieldy pension system. He also wants individual companies to negotiate wages rather than being bound by industrywide agreements.
Mr Macron's reform programme was highlighted in a post-election congratulatory message from German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "Strong vote for reforms," read the message on a government Twitter account.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG, REUTERS