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France Heads to Parliamentary Polls as Macron Eyes another Victory | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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French President Emmanuel Macron looks set for another electoral victory on Sunday when his new REM party contests the first round of parliamentary voting. (AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron is eyeing a victory in the parliamentary elections kicked off on Sunday.

His Republique en Marche (Republic on the Move, REM) party, which he only founded 14 months ago, needs a clear majority in the National Assembly for him to push through the reforms he promised in his campaign.

Macron has enjoyed a political honeymoon since he beat far-right candidate Marine Le Pen to become France’s youngest-ever president on May 7, naming a cabinet that crosses left-right lines and making an assured impression in meetings with US President Donald Trump and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

The vote to elect the lower house’s 577 members comes a month after Macron, a 39-year-old former banker with little political experience, defied the odds to win the presidency of the euro zone’s second-largest economy.

“We want a big majority to be able to act and transform France over the next five years,” Mounir Mahjoubi, a tech entrepreneur running under the REM banner told Reuters as he canvassed support in his northern Paris constituency ahead of the vote.

A host of opinion polls show Macron’s untested party could take 30 percent of the first-round vote, putting it on track to secure a landslide in next Sunday’s second round.

The center-right Republicans and the Socialists fear heavy losses after their candidates failed to reach the presidential run-off for the first time in France’s post-war history.

Some predictions indicate REM could win around 400 seats as voters seek to give the new president a strong mandate.

The party has already come first in 10 of the 11 French overseas constituencies that voted before the mainland.

“I think voters are pretty mobilized behind REM,” said Georges Garion, a 64-year-old company manager, before voting began in Paris. “We’re seeing a kind of majority cohesion, it’s democracy at work.”

While predicting the outcome can be tricky with 7,882 candidates vying for parliament’s seats, even REM’s rivals have been saying they expect Macron to secure a majority.

Their strategy has been to urge voters to make sure the opposition will be big enough to have some clout in parliament.

“We shouldn’t have a monopolistic party,” former prime minister Bernard Cazeneuve, a Socialist, told Reuters.

However few MPs are expected to be elected in the first round.

If no candidate wins over 50 percent, the two top-placed contenders go into the second round — as well as any candidate who won the votes of over 12.5 percent of the electorate.

Around 47 million people are eligible to vote. Polling stations in the largest cities were to remain open until 8:00 pm (1800 GMT) with exit polls released immediately afterwards.

More than 50,000 police were on patrol in a country still under a state of emergency following a wave of extremist attacks that have killed more than 230 people since 2015.

In the latest incident, a 40-year-old self-radicalized Algerian was shot and wounded after he attacked a policeman with a hammer outside Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral on Tuesday.

The new president’s party has named many candidates who have never held office in an attempt to freshen up the political scene.

They include Marie Sara, a retired female bullfighter, who is taking on a senior member of Le Pen’s National Front in southern France, Gilbert Collard.

The Socialists’ demise could be underlined if its leader Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, 65, is ousted from his Paris seat by REM junior minister Mounir Mahjoubi, who is just 33.

Macron is also trying to usher in an era of “cleaner” politics, banning REM candidates from employing family members if elected and insisting they must not perform consultancy work while in office.

The measures follow the scandal that destroyed the presidential chances of Republicans candidate Francois Fillon who is facing criminal charges for paying his wife Penelope more than 900,000 euros ($1.0 million) as his parliamentary assistant.

Fillon denies the charges.

Given his crusade, Macron faces embarrassment after his small centrist ally, the MoDem party, was put under preliminary investigation on suspicion of employing fake parliamentary assistants at the European Parliament.

One of Macron’s ministers, Richard Ferrand, is also being probed over a property deal involving his wife.

Le Pen’s party meanwhile looks set to struggle to win 15 seats nationally, a result that would represent another deep disappointment after her defeat by Macron.

But Le Pen told AFP this week in the northern town of Henin-Beaumont where she is bidding to win a seat that with other parties likely to agree to work with Macron, “we will be the only opposition force.”