Macron wins no-confidence votes on aide scandal

PARIS • The French government firmly defeated two no-confidence motions put forward by opposition lawmakers over its handling of a scandal involving President Emmanuel Macron's bodyguard, confirming his solid majority.

Although the two motions on Tuesday had virtually no chance of succeeding, the votes capped a tumultuous two weeks in French politics after a video showing the bodyguard beating protesters triggered the most serious crisis of Mr Macron's tenure.

The motion backed by the conservative opposition party won 143 votes, falling short of the 289 necessary to topple the government, while the one put forward by an alliance of left-wing parties gathered only 74 votes.

Mr Macron's Republic On The Move party controls an outright majority in the Lower House National Assembly.

Not a single of the President's MPs broke ranks.

Despite the parliamentary victories over what has now become known as the "Benalla affair", after the bodyguard Alexandre Benalla, the scandal has left an impact on Mr Macron's presidency, denting his popularity and throwing parts of his agenda off schedule.

Benalla has been charged with assault and impersonating an officer in the video published by French daily Le Monde last month.

 
 

It captured him hitting a protester and wrestling another while wearing a police helmet in May.

He has insisted that he was trying to help the police by bringing aggressive demonstrators under control.

The 40-year-old President was criticised for firing the aide only after the video was revealed by the press, undermining his claim of building an "exemplary republic".

As well as forcing his government to postpone a constitutional reform, the affair has pushed Mr Macron down in the polls, with his popularity at barely 36 per cent now, according to a recent survey.

It has also emboldened a fragmented opposition, which had been floundering since Mr Macron's landslide victory last year.

The scandal has also raised questions about Mr Macron's highly centralised governing style and the wide powers conferred on the president under France's Fifth Republic.

"This scandal reveals above all the abuses of a hyper-presidential regime," veteran communist lawmaker Andre Chassaigne told MPs before the no-confidence vote.

"This is not just a summer affair. It shows the ultra concentration of powers by an elected monarch which undermines the very principle of separation of powers," he said.

Mr Macron has dismissed the case as a "storm in a teacup".

Although he will soon head off to the south of France for a summer break, where he will host British Prime Minister Theresa May tomorrow, the scandal will continue to make waves when lawmakers return next month.

The senate, France's Upper House of Parliament, has set up an inquiry which may question Benalla after the 26-year-old said in an interview he was open to it, despite the separate judicial investigation opened by prosecutors.

On Tuesday, the head of Mr Macron's party, Mr Christophe Castaner, told the inquiry he had fired Mr Vincent Crase, another man who was seen roughing up protesters with Benalla in the video.

Mr Crase, who held a security position in the President's party, was also placed under formal investigation by prosecutors.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2018, with the headline 'Macron wins no-confidence votes on aide scandal'. Print Edition | Subscribe