French President Emmanuel Macron won a large majority at parliament in elections that witnessed a record low turnout and staggering defeat to the Socialists.
Macron’s year-old Republique en Marche (Republic on the Move, LREM) and their allies won 351 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly, final results showed after the second round of an election which has eliminated many high-profile figures.
The result, based on official figures and pollster projections, redraws France’s political landscape, humiliating the Socialist and conservative parties that alternated in power for decades until Macron’s election in May.
They predicted the conservative Republicans and their allies would form the largest opposition bloc with 125 to 131 seats, while the Socialist Party, in power for the past five years, and its partners would secure 41 to 49 seats, their lowest ever in the postwar Fifth Republic.
“This is an opportunity for France. One year ago no one would have imagined such a political renewal,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said in a statement.
“It is down to the president’s desire to breathe new life into democracy and to the French people who wanted to give parliament a new face.”
Macron’s success was tempered by a record low turnout of just under 44 percent, leading his opponents to claim he had no groundswell of support.
The high abstention rate underlines that Macron will have to tread carefully with reforms in a country with muscular trade unions and a history of street protests that have forced many a past government to dilute new legislation.
Government spokesman Christophe Castaner said it signaled voters “had not wanted to hand Macron a blank check.”
Nevertheless, the scale of victory gives the president, a pro-European Union centrist, a strong platform from which to make good on campaign promises to revive France’s fortunes by cleaning up politics and relaxing regulations that investors say shackle the euro zone’s second-biggest economy.
Victory for Macron, France’s youngest leader since Napoleon, marks the routing of the old political class.
The Socialists were the biggest losers, punished for the high unemployment, social unrest and lost national confidence that marked their five years in power.
The party of former president Francois Hollande shed more than 250 seats, obtaining just 29 seats.
“Tonight, the collapse of the Socialist Party is beyond doubt. The president of the Republic has all the powers,” Jean-Christophe Cambadelis said after announcing he would step down as Socialist Party chief.
He said the party would have to rebuild itself from the top down. Cambadelis was knocked out of the running for parliament in last week’s first round of voting.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen won a seat in the National Assembly for the first time. Her National Front party clinched at least eight seats in total, a result she celebrated but which may disappoint supporters who a month ago dreamed of entering the Elysee.
Former Socialist prime minister Manuel Valls narrowly retained his seat after a dogfight with a hard-left candidate in the Paris suburbs who demanded a recount amid noisy protests.
But former education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem — a one-time Socialist star — was beaten by an LREM candidate in the central city of Lyon, while former labor minister Myriam El Khomri lost to Macron-supporting candidate Pierre-Yves Bournazel in the capital.
Francois Baroin, who led the Republicans’ campaign, said the conservatives would emphasize their differences with Macron, especially on taxes.
The scale of LREM’s projected win means Macron will enjoy an absolute majority even without the support of alliance partner Francois Bayrou and Modem, lending him a freer hand for reforms and room for a government reshuffle should he choose to carry one out. Modem currently has two ministers in the cabinet.
Macron’s rivals went into the second round trying only to limit the scale of the newcomer’s win. They urged voters not to allow too much power to be concentrated in the hands of one party and warned Macron’s MPs would be mere yes-men who would rubber-stamp legislation.
It appeared the message had some impact. Opinion polls before the vote had projected Macron could win as many as 470 seats.
Far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who won his Marseille seat, promised “social resistance” to Macron’s reform agenda and said the high abstention rate meant the president lacked the legitimacy to destroy the labor code.
The new assembly is set to be transformed with younger, more ethnically diverse lawmakers and 223 women — a record number.
Around half of LREM’s candidates are virtual unknowns drawn from diverse fields of academia, business or local activism.
They include 27-year-old Rwandan orphan Herve Berville, who cruised to victory in the western region of Brittany, and female bullfighter Marie Sara, who came within 100 votes of unseating senior FN figure Gilbert Collard in southern France.
The other half of the party are a mix of centrists and moderate left- and right-wing politicians drawn from established parties including ally Modem.
Many observers suggested voters were weary of elections after four in the space of two months.
His confident start at home, where he has concentrated on trying to restore the lost prestige of the president, and his bold action on the international stage has led to a host of positive headlines.
He won instant plaudits from France’s closest ally Germany, with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman hailing his “clear parliamentary majority.”