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French election turnout worst in modern history as Emmanuel Macron heads for landslide victory in parliament

President set to win mandate for pro-business reforms, but celebrations dampened by voter apathy

Will Worley
Monday 12 June 2017 16:19 BST
Macron set for landslide victory in French parliamentary elections

Emmanuel Macron is on course for a landslide victory in France's parliamentary elections, but the worst turnout in modern history has put a damper on celebrations in Paris.

Despite being founded just over a year ago, the final count of the first round result showed Mr Macron's party La République En Marche! and their MoDem allies on 32.3 per cent of the vote, leaving rival parties crushed.

Their closest rivals, the traditional conservative Les Républicains party, took just 21.5 per cent.

Though almost every seat will go to a second-round run-off, the first round results suggest En Marche! and MoDem will end up with up to 445 seats in the 577 seat National Assembly, while Les Républicains could end up with fewer than 100.

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The win is expected to be one of the biggest ever in post-war France and will consolidate Mr Macron’s position following his landmark presidential victory in May.

“France is back,” said Prime Minister Édouard Philippe last night. Voters sent a "message without ambiguity" that they want a parliament with a “new face”, Mr Philippe added.

But turnout at the poll was also the lowest the country has seen in modern times, with just 48.7 per cent of 47 million registered voters casting their ballot -- a nadir for modern France.

Earlier this year, 67.9 per cent of the French electorate voted in the presidential elections, as demonstrated by Statista.

(Statista/The Independent

And in 2012, turnout was almost 10 points higher, at 57.2 per cent.

Despite fielding a number of politically inexperienced candidates, the victory for Mr Macron is expected to be so large that opposition leaders fear he could rule unchallenged. They are urging voters to unite around the remaining non-En Marche! or MoDem candidates.

A final round of voting will be held in a week’s time, and a similar victory is expected for En Marche!.

The parliamentary support is much needed for the 39-year-old President, who aims to roll out a number of business friendly reforms to labour laws – which French socialists have strongly resisted in the past.

But the victory is expected to provide the President with a strong mandate.

Mr Macron’s promises of reforms also went further than the economy. His campaign sold voters a vision of a cleaner politics after years of scandal.

“We have to restore trust," said minister for parliamentary relations Christophe Castaner, as the victory became clear on Monday morning.

“It is the government's responsibility, that of the President, that of the Prime Minister, to restore trust in the election process,” he told France 2 Television.

“We don't want a majority to have an easy time of it. We want a majority that will reform,” he added.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, regarded as the most powerful politician in Europe, offered Mr Macron her congratulations on Monday.

“My heartfelt congratulations to Emmanuel Macron [for] the great success of his party in the first election round,” said Ms Merkel via Twitter. “Strong vote for reforms."

Opposition leaders decried the low turnout, with the National Front’s Marine Le Pen calling it “catastrophic”. Her far-right party had 13.2 per cent of the vote, despite experiencing a wave of popularity over the last year.

Far left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon said the low turnout meant “there is no majority in this country” to support Mr Macron's reform agenda, which he says includes “destructive labour rules” and would reduce freedoms. His party, La France Insoumise (France Unbowed), was on just over 11 per cent.

The first secretary of the Socialist party, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, said the record low participation is a sign of “huge democratic fatigue”. The party was on course for just 7.4 per cent.

Trade unions are now likely to be the main obstacle to Mr Macron imposing his pro-business reforms.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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