French voters elect MPs, in test for Macron

PARIS (AP) — French voters are heading to the polls in the latest round of key parliamentary elections that will demonstrate just how much legroom President Emmanuel Macron’s party will be given to carry out its ambitious domestic agenda.

In last week’s first vote, the left, under the flare of Jean-Luc Melenchon, made a surprisingly strong show and caused jitters among Macron’s allies.

They fear a strong showing of Melenchon’s coalition on Sunday could turn Macron into a chained second-term leader, one who spends his time negotiating with politicians and with severe restrictions on his ability to rule.

Elections are being held across the country to select the 577 members of the National Assembly, the most powerful branch of the French parliament.

While Macron’s centrist alliance is expected to win the most seats, observers predict it will not be able to maintain its majority – the gold tally of 289 seats. In this case, a new coalition composed of the far left, the Socialists and the Greens could be forged, a coalition that could make Macron’s political maneuvers more difficult, as the lower house of parliament is the key to voting in laws.

Macron gave a powerfully choreographed plea to voters from the tarmac ahead of a trip to Romania and Ukraine earlier this week, warning that an inconclusive election, or a pending parliament, would endanger the nation.

“In these difficult times, the choice you will make this Sunday is more important than ever,” he said on Tuesday, as the presidential plane waited grimly in the background to visit French troops stationed near Ukraine. “Nothing would be worse than adding French disorder to the disorder of the world,” he said.

Following Macron’s re-election in May, his centrist coalition is aiming for a parliamentary majority that would allow the president to deliver on his campaign promises, including tax cuts and raising the French retirement age from 62 to 65. There is still hope for his camp: estimated that Macron’s centrists could eventually win from 255 to more than 300 seats, while the left-wing coalition led by Mélenchon could win more than 200 seats.

Yet many so far recognize a less-than-desirable outcome for Macron’s party.

“The disappointment was evident on the night of the first round for the presidential party leaders. It’s clear that they now want to have a new momentum going into the second round,” said Martin Quencez, a political analyst at The German Marshall Fund of the United States.

If Macron fails to gain a majority, it will not only affect France’s domestic politics, but also affect all of Europe. Analysts predict that the French leader will have to focus more on his domestic agenda than on his foreign policy for the rest of his tenure. It could mean the end of President Macron, the continental statesman.

If he loses his majority, “he should be more involved in domestic politics in the next five years than before, so we could expect that he would have less political capital to invest at the European or international level … This could have an impact have on European politics as a whole in European affairs,” Quencez said.

Jeffrey Schaeffer in Paris contributed


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