French President-elect Emmanuel Macron’s party on Thursday announced a list of legislative candidates that is heavy on political novices, a sign of France’s reshaped and unsettled landscape ahead of crucial June parliamentary elections.
The 429 announced candidates, of whom more than half are new to politics and half are women, were a first indication of the direction of Macron’s still fluid party, which the president-elect – himself a relative political neophyte – formed just a year ago and which has no representatives in parliament. In a measure of the challenge of building a movement from scratch, candidates were still being vetted hours before the announcement, and the party said after the list’s release that at least five people were included mistakenly. As many as 147 additional candidates are still being finalized.
The legislative elections in June will determine whether Macron, a 39-year-old centrist who was swept into the presidency on Sunday, will have a free hand to pursue his ambitious agenda. He has mixed proposals for business-friendly labor reforms with pledges to strengthen the security net for struggling workers, fusing aspects of France’s center-left and center-right parties while rejecting the fierce protectionism of his defeated far-right rival, Marine Le Pen.
But many of the 66 percent of voters who backed Macron appear to have done so less to support him than because they loathed Le Pen, who failed to shake off her party’s Nazi-apologist past. That may spell trouble for Macron in the June polls, which France’s traditional parties have vowed to use as a toehold to climb back into power. If Macron does not win a governing majority in the 577-seat National Assembly, he could be forced into a power-sharing arrangement with an opposing party that could severely curtail his agenda. And another five years of stagnation could lead to a roaring comeback for Le Pen in the next election, in 2022.
The unusual political moment was underlined by the number of applications Macron’s party fielded for a spot on its slate in June: 19,000. It was a rare chance for citizens from all walks of French life to dream of a shot at a political career. The oldest candidate is 72; the youngest is 24.
“It’s the definitive return of citizens to the heart of our political life,” Richard Ferrand, the secretary general of Republic on the Move, Macron’s party, told reporters Thursday.
The announced candidates include a prizewinning mathematician, an advocate for refugees and a business consultant. One is the former head of France’s national SWAT team. Twenty-three candidates come from the governing Socialist party, which collapsed in the presidential election after the five-year term of the unpopular François Hollande, whose term ends this Sunday.
And, after a campaign against Le Pen that often touched on sensitive issues of race, religion and immigration, about 6 percent of the candidates have family names of Arab origin, while others have backgrounds in France’s former colonial possessions in Africa. France does not track race or religion in its official census, but its Muslim population is widely estimated to be somewhere between 5 and 8 percent of the population. The proportion of candidates from ethnic or religious minorities appears to be higher than in previous elections, analysts said.
“It’s a very important issue, because when Macron talks about renovating French politics, it’s not just to make it younger, but also to make it more representative of the diversity of society,” said Bruno Cautrès, an expert on French politics at Sciences Po.
With the center-left Socialists polling in the single digits and many of their lawmakers seeking to defect to Macron’s party, the main political threat to Macron comes from the center-right Republican party. Its presidential candidate, François Fillon, was expected to have a lock on the Elysee Palace until a nepotism scandal derailed his bid this year.
Macron, a former investment banker and economic adviser to Hollande, broke with his patron a year ago to form his own movement.
After his improbable rise to power, he is searching for a way to capture disenchanted voters from both sides of the political spectrum, a delicate dance that risks appealing to no one. He cannot stake out too many center-left positions without the risk of being portrayed as the political heir of the unpopular Hollande. But appointing a center-right prime minister, as he is widely expected to do Monday, could drive left-wing voters back to the Socialists and other leftist parties.
“It’ll be very difficult to get a majority, because the 66 percent result doesn’t show 66 percent in favor of his project,” said Olivier Rouquan, a political analyst at the University of Paris Panthéon-Assas.
The delicate dance was on display Thursday when Macron’s party announced that it will not allow former Socialist prime minister Manuel Valls to run as one of its candidates but that it will not seek to unseat him, either. Valls has declared his Socialist party dead and sought to join forces with Macron.
Ferrand, the secretary general of Macron’s party, said Thursday that the party has not yet named all of its candidates because it is trying to leave the door open to candidates from the center-right political establishment who might want to switch allegiances before the filing deadline next Wednesday.
So far, the number of center-right defections has been limited. A senior center-right leader went for Macron’s throat Thursday, highlighting the dangers faced by the future president, who will be France’s youngest head of state since Napoleon.
“The French are going to define the orientation of the government through their vote,” said François Baroin, who is favored to become prime minister if his party is the top vote-getter in the elections, which will be held in two rounds, on June 11 and 18.
In the presidential election, Macron “won the battle of ambiguity by explaining that he is neither of the right nor of the left,” Baroin told Le Figaro newspaper. But, he added, “he is the direct heir of François Hollande.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Michael Birnbaum