PARIS - The parliamentarian who represents me in the National Assembly of France is a socialist, Patrick Bloche. His Paris district stretches from Le Marais to the Place de la République, via the west of the 12th arrondissement and Île Saint-Louis. Bloche ran for a fifth term on Sunday, standing on his record on behalf of the capital and its people. But like 268 other candidates from the Socialist Party, he was dumped in the very first round of voting.
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The man who beat him, by an enormous majority, was Pacme Rupin – a young man with no public record. He didn’t need much to win 51 percent of the vote. In fact, all he needed was a one-line slogan: “Pacme Rupin, the official candidate of President Emmanuel Macron’s party La République En Marche!” And the party’s other candidates didn’t need much else to beat experienced ministers and parliamentarians on both the left and right. How did this happen? Here are five reasons...
1. The French public made it clear time and again they want change. As far as they are concerned, the only man who can bring that is Macron. They decided to give him the tools to do it, including by massacring the incumbent establishment. It’s no coincidence that German Chancellor Angela Merkel chose to call and congratulate Macron when the results came in – she knows the momentum of European reform has just begun.
The final result will only be known after the second round. The parties on the left and right have a week to persuade voters to return home. But barring a substantial change, this is what the new National Assembly is going to look like: out of 577 seats, Macron’s party should have a clear majority – between 390 and 450 – while the Republican Party could get somewhere between 70 to 132 seats.
Everyone else will have to settle for the scraps. The Socialist Party could be left with just 15 seats; the far left, led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, will get – together with what’s left of the Communist Party – between eight and 23 seats; and Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front will end up with five seats at most, much less than is needed in order to receive the standing – and funding – of a parliamentary faction.
2. Even before the voting results were known, spokesmen for the major parties began questioning the legitimacy of the decisive majority Macron seems set to win. The argument was that the low voter turnout was a blow to democratic representation.
But a closer examination of the effect of the low participation rate – a record-low 49.8 percent – showed an odd pattern emerging.
While low voter turnout usually helps extremist parties – whose voters are more disciplined and filled with a sense of duty that overcomes bad weather, laziness and even illness – the ideological parties received very few votes. Macron’s centrist party, which means “Republic on the Move!” in English, was the one that brought all of its supporters to the polls.
It would appear, then, that both the ballots that were cast and those that were not constituted a vote of no-confidence in the extremist parties.
If we compare these results to those of the first round of the presidential election in April, we see that Mélenchon lost 64 percent of his supporters and Le Pen lost 61 percent of hers, while Macron lost just 18 percent of his voters.
3. Socialist Party leader and presidential candidate Benot Hamon led his movement to a historic defeat and lost his own seat in the assembly in the first round. He announced his intention “to lead the rebuilding of the party,” but that won’t happen because no one will give him a third chance. The real defeat was that of Hamon’s political patron, Martine Aubry, known mainly for pushing through the law limiting the workweek to 35 hours. In Aubry’s northern France constituency, not a single socialist candidate was left standing: Each left-wing candidate in the five northern districts was eliminated in the first round.
The first reason for the punishment handed to the movement by voters was, of course, former President François Hollande. But the second reason was the squabbles within the party. All of the legislators who rebelled against Hollande, seeking to take an independent stance, were voted out, including Hamon himself.
4. It would seem that the time has come to retire, at least for now, the cliché about the rise of the extreme right in Europe. In the first round of the previous parliamentary election five years ago, Le Pen received 13.6 percent of the vote. On Sunday, after years of worsening unemployment and a series of deadly terror attacks, she got 13.2 percent.
5. Macron’s convincing victory carries more than a few dangers in the second round: For example, absenteeism and a lack of voting discipline within his party; the complex challenge of running the control committees; and, worst of all, the absence of any excuse for not following through on the many campaign promises.
Macron asked the French for their trust. They presumably are about to fulfill all his wishes – and in politics, there is nothing more frightening than that.