Many political novices on Macron's list of legislative candidates

Le Havre Mayor Edouard Philippe (second from right) preparing to present candidates for the Republic on the Move party on Thursday, ahead of the parliamentary elections in June.
Le Havre Mayor Edouard Philippe (second from right) preparing to present candidates for the Republic on the Move party on Thursday, ahead of the parliamentary elections in June.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Over half are new to politics, in a sign of fluidity ahead of June polls

PARIS • A female bullfighter, a fighter pilot and a mathematician were among those on the list when French President-elect Emmanuel Macron's party announced its legislative candidates.

The list was heavy on political novices, a sign of France's reshaped and unsettled landscape ahead of the crucial parliamentary elections next month.

The 429 announced candidates, of whom more than half were new to politics and half were women, were a first indication of the direction of Mr Macron's still fluid party, formed by the President-elect - himself a relative political neophyte - just a year ago, and with no representatives in Parliament.

In a measure of the challenge of building a movement from scratch, candidates were still being vetted hours before the announcement, and the party said, after the list's release, that at least five people were included mistakenly.

As many as 147 additional candidates are still being finalised.

The legislative elections in June will determine whether Mr Macron, a 39-year-old centrist who was swept into the presidency on Sunday, will have a free hand to pursue his ambitious agenda.

He has mixed proposals for business-friendly labour reforms, with pledges to strengthen the security net for struggling workers, and for fusing aspects of France's centre-left and centre-right parties, while rejecting the fierce protectionism of his defeated far-right rival, Ms Marine Le Pen.

But many of the 66 per cent of voters who backed Mr Macron appear to have done so less to support him than because they loathed Ms Le Pen, who failed to shake off her party's Nazi-apologist past.

If Mr Macron does not win a governing majority in the 577-seat National Assembly, he could be forced into a power-sharing arrangement with an opposing party that could severely curtail his agenda. And another five years of stagnation could lead to a roaring comeback for Ms Le Pen in the 2022 election.

The unusual political moment was underlined by the number of applications Mr Macron's party fielded for a spot on its slate next month: 19,000. It was a rare chance for citizens from all walks of French life to dream of a shot at a political career. The oldest candidate is 72; the youngest is 24.

"It's the definitive return of citizens to the heart of our political life," Mr Richard Ferrand, secretary-general of Republic on the Move, Mr Macron's party, told reporters on Thursday.

The announced candidates also included an advocate for refugees and a business consultant. One was the former head of France's national Swat team. Twenty-three candidates came from the governing Socialist party, which collapsed in the presidential election after the five-year term of the unpopular Mr Francois Hollande, whose term ends tomorrow.

And, after a campaign against Ms Le Pen that often touched on sensitive issues of race, religion and immigration, about 6 per cent of the candidates have family names of Arab origin, while others have backgrounds in France's former colonial possessions in Africa.

Mr Macron, a former investment banker and economic adviser to Mr Hollande, broke with his patron a year ago to form his own movement. After his improbable rise to power, he is searching for a way to capture disenchanted voters from both sides of the political spectrum, a delicate dance that risks appealing to no one.

He cannot stake out too many centre-left positions without the risk of being portrayed as the political heir of Mr Hollande.

But appointing a centre-right prime minister, as he is widely expected to do on Monday, could drive left-wing voters back to the Socialists and other leftist parties.

The delicate dance was on display on Thursday when Mr Macron's party announced it would not allow former Socialist prime minister Manuel Valls to run as one of its candidates, but that it would not seek to unseat him either. Mr Valls has declared his Socialist party dead and sought to join forces with Mr Macron.

Mr Macron is due to hold talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday afternoon in Berlin, one day after his planned inauguration tomorrow.

The visit was announced yesterday by Dr Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert during a regular government news conference.

WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS

SEE OPINION: WHAT FRENCH VOTERS WANT FROM MACRON IS JOBS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2017, with the headline 'Many political novices on Macron's list of legislative candidates'. Print Edition | Subscribe