Macron's party holds whip hand as polls near

French voters likely to give leader majority he needs on Sunday to push through reforms

PARIS • French President Emmanuel Macron's party heads into the first round of parliamentary elections tomorrow apparently in a strong position to win the majority he needs to push through his ambitious reforms.

Various opinion polls give his Republique en Marche (Republic on the Move, or REM) party around 30 per cent of the vote, putting it in the driving seat to secure an absolute majority in the second round on June 18.

With Mr Macron's party siphoning off support from the traditional political forces of left and right - the Socialists of his predecessor Francois Hollande and the conservative Republicans - the elections could radically redraw France's political map.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe appealed to voters on Europe 1 radio: "The question that the French people must answer on Sunday is - do they want to give the President and the government he named a sufficient majority to begin the work of turning around the country?"

REM could be heading for as many as 400 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly, according to some polls, a huge victory for a president who many observers were predicting just weeks ago might struggle to win a majority.

Mr Philippe is a conservative in Mr Macron's government of left and right that the 39-year-old centrist assembled in a bid to break with decades of tribalist left-right politics. Mr Philippe's party, the Republicans, yesterday complained that such domination could be harmful. "I don't think it would be healthy for the democratic debate over the next five years," said Mr Francois Baroin, who is leading the Republicans in the election.

Ms Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front, meanwhile, could struggle to gain 15 seats nationally, a score that would be an additional humiliation after she was soundly beaten by Mr Macron in the presidential election.

Polls appear to suggest that Mr Macron is in tune with the wishes of French voters to see deep changes to the political class. Many of REM's 530 candidates come from civil society and have never run for office.

Mr Macron's reform agenda is broad. The key plank is to build on an overhaul of the labour market that the previous Socialist government began - measures that led to huge protests last year.

The government has said it plans to fast-track legislation through Parliament using executive decrees in a country where many see the cost of hiring and firing as a brake on growth. Unemployment is around 10 per cent.

Mr Macron and Mr Philippe have held softly-softly initial talks with the unions about their proposed reforms.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2017, with the headline 'Macron's party holds whip hand as polls near'. Print Edition | Subscribe