Macron’s French ‘revolution’ faces first test

May 11, 2017 (2 weeks ago) 3:22 pm
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French president-elect Emmanuel Macron will present hundreds of political newcomers to stand for crucial parliamentary elections in June/AFP

, PARIS, France, May 11 – French president-elect Emmanuel Macron faces the first major test of his plans to overhaul the country’s politics Thursday as his party reveals its candidates for parliamentary elections in June.

Pro-Europe centrist Macron, 39, was elected on Sunday after promising a “revolution” that would bring fresh faces into France’s stale political landscape and end the pattern of power alternating between traditional parties.

His newly renamed grassroots movement, “Republique en Marche” (Republic on the Move), founded only 13 months ago, will finally reveal the vast majority of the 577 candidates who will stand in parliamentary elections in June.

Macron has promised that half will be complete newcomers, meaning a diverse range of figures from business, civil service, activist groups and academia are set to make their first foray into politics. Half of the candidates will be women.

“The second act in the redrawing of our political life will be the building of a parliamentary majority in the elections in June,” the secretary general of the movement, Richard Ferrand, told reporters on Monday.

The nomination process is a balancing act for Macron and represents major risks for his presidency, which will begin formally on Sunday when he takes over from Socialist Francois Hollande.

Without his own parliamentary majority, he will find it hard to push through his planned reforms of the labour market, pensions, unemployment benefits or education.

Many of his newcomers, which have been approved by a nomination committee, will be up against seasoned politicians with long careers and local networks of activists and supporters.

And there is also the risk of scandal if anyone with a chequered history slips through the vetting process of the roughly 15,000 applications sent online.

Only 14 candidates have been revealed so far.

Valls headache

Among the approximately 450 candidates set to be announced on Thursday will be a number of familiar faces from the Socialist Party and from the centrist MoDem party, headed by Macron ally Francois Bayrou.

The president-elect is a left-leaning liberal — a one-time Socialist party member — and was a senior advisor to Hollande and an economy minister in his government from 2014-2016.

French president-elect Emmanuel Macron will present hundreds of political newcomers to stand for crucial parliamentary elections in June/AFP

No one who planned to stand for the rightwing Republicans party has defected, the party’s secretary general Bernard Accoyer said Thursday, despite efforts to recruit them.

Macron, a former investment banker who has never held elected office, faces two other tricky decisions this week.

The first is his choice for prime minister, who will head the government until at last the parliamentary elections on June 11 and 18 and perhaps beyond.

The choice will send a powerful signal about Macron’s intentions, and he has promised to pick someone with past experience of parliament and capable of managing a majority. His declared preference is for a woman.

Amid feverish speculation in the French media — will he pick a loyal supporter or someone from the rightwing Republicans? — nothing has leaked from his small group of aides.

The second dilemma is the case of former government colleague and ex-Socialist prime minister Manuel Valls.

Valls, a one-time centrist ally who lobbied for Macron to join the government in 2014, on Tuesday declared his desire to stand for Macron’s party in the parliamentary elections.

But relations between him and Macron frayed during their time in government over differences on policy, and Valls was an outspoken critic of Macron’s decision to start his own political movement last April.

The Spanish-born MP from the constituency of Evry, a suburb of Paris, was abruptly told he had to apply online and should not assume he would be accepted.

French media have quoted him telling En Marche’s nomination chief Jean-Paul Delevoye that he was unable to send his application, increasing the sense of humiliation.

“I don’t understand. I’m clicking and clicking on your site but it’s not working,” Valls was reported to have said by Europe 1 radio.

Mushrooming movements

Macron’s sensational victory on Sunday came after a campaign that exposed deep economic and social divisions, as well as tensions about French identity and immigration.

The centrist president-elect Emmanuel Macron is expected to pick several familiar faces from the Socialist party of outgoing President Francois Hollande (right) for the French parliamentary elections/AFP

The political consequences are still being felt, with the Socialists fighting for relevance and the Republicans eager to become the main political force in parliament after the June elections.

Seeking to emulate Macron’s route to power outside the traditional parties, defeated Socialist presidential candidate Benoit Hamon has announced his own movement, as has a separate group of Socialists including Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

Far-left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon is also hoping for a breakthrough in the coming elections with his “France Insoumise” (“France Unbowed”) alliance, underlining France’s political fragmentation.

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