FRANCE – Tough task ahead

PARIS – Emmanuel Macron took his first steps as France’s president-elect on Monday but faces a tough task establishing a team that can govern effectively.

His party has announced it is changing name from En Marche to La Republique En Marche (Republic on the Move).

It must pick candidates quickly ahead of parliamentary elections on 11 and 18 June. It wants to be the biggest party but at the moment has no seats at all.

Macron beat the far right’s Marine Le Pen by 66.1 to 33.9 per cent on Sunday.

Emmanuel Macron (centre left) on his first duty as president-elect, with President François Hollande.

But a low turnout and a record number of spoiled or blank votes showed disillusionment among many, particularly on the far left, at the choice they were given.

Le Pen has also signalled there will be a change to her National Front party. There are suggestions from its officials, too, that it will change its name. But she has vowed to lead the “new force” into the parliamentary elections.

Emmanuel Macron inherits one of the most powerful positions in Europe, and all the symbolism that comes with it.

This morning at the Arc de Triomphe, he showed no sign of being awed by his new job.

He walked alongside the outgoing President, François Hollande, as the two laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

They then shook hands with veterans. Macron appeared to take longer to make his way through one receiving line, stopping to talk to elderly men, leaving Hollande to wait for him at the end.

Emmanuel Macron now becomes France’s youngest leader since Napoleon Bonaparte, whose battles are commemorated at the Arc de Triomphe. The new president will hope that his own fights are less bloody.

He faces two main problems – a complete lack of representation in parliament and a deeply divided country.

Apart from being, at 39, the country’s youngest president, he is also the first from outside the two main parties since the founding of the modern republic in 1958.

Although he won support, sometimes grudgingly, from the established Socialists and Republicans, much of it stemmed from the need to beat Le Pen. The conservative Republicans in particular will be looking for a strong showing in the parliamentary polls.

Polls released shortly after Macron’s victory suggested he and his allies in the centrist Modem party would come out top in the first round on 11 June, with 24-26 per cent of the vote.

Both the Republicans and National Front would have about 22 per cent, the far-left France Unbowed 13-15 per cent and the Socialists, still smarting from François Hollande’s unpopularity, nine per cent.

But the first-past-the-post system means it is difficult to gauge seat numbers. The National Front only has two seats and despite its candidate’s performance in the presidential election, one poll suggested it might only get 15-25 in the 577 seat parliament.

Such uncertainty means Macron might well be faced with a serious amount of horse trading to find allies to buy into his manifesto.

Another opinion poll in Le Figaro on Monday suggested many French people think this no bad thing.

The Kantar Sofres-OnePoint study suggested only 34 per cent of those interviewed hoped the new head of state would have a majority in parliament.

Macron intends to field candidates in all seats and has said half of them will be newcomers to politics – to try to introduce new blood. Half will be from Modem or defectors from other parties.

The idea is that the candidates will not have to give up their party affiliations but will need to run under the Republique En Marche banner.

Despite Marine Le Pen’s efforts to refocus the party, it has continued to suffer from its past extremist associations under her father Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Nicolas Bay, party secretary-general, told the Associated Press: “The National Front is a tool that will evolve to be more efficient, bring even more people together after the number of voters we reached last night.”

Le Pen hailed a “historic result” but admitted the need for “profound transformation” before the parliamentary elections. She said she would stay to lead an opposition of “patriots” against “globalists”.

Source: (BBC)

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