Macron sets sights on huge parliamentary majority; voter turnout low | Reuters

By Ingrid Melander and Maya Nikolaeva
| PARIS

PARIS Voters turned out in record low numbers on Sunday in the second round of France’s parliamentary election, with President Emmanuel Macron expected to win a landslide majority to help push through far-reaching pro-business reforms.

The vote comes just a month after the 39-year-old former banker became the youngest head of state in modern French history, promising to clean up French politics and revive the euro zone’s second-biggest economy.

Macron’s centrist Republic on the Move party is little more than a year old, yet pollsters project it will win as many as 75 to 80 percent of the 577 seats in the lower house together with its center-right MoDem ally.

Turnout, though, was on course for a record low, a sign of voter fatigue after seven months of campaigning and voting – and also of disillusionment and anger with politics that could eventually complicate Macron’s reform drive.

Interior Ministry data showed turnout was 35.33 percent at 5 p.m. (1500 GMT), 10 points lower than at the same time in 2012. Three pollsters projected turnout to be at 42-43 percent at the close of polling, a record low in the post-war Fifth Republic.

“People know it’s already a done deal,” Alex Mpoy, a 38-year-old security guard, told Reuters TV in Paris, echoing the apathy of many voters who did not intend to vote.

Macron cast his vote early in the morning in the seaside resort of Le Touquet before flying to a ceremony outside Paris to mark the anniversary of Charles de Gaulle’s 1940 appeal for French resistance to Nazi occupation.

Polls before the vote showed Macron on course to win the biggest parliamentary majority since de Gaulle’s own conservatives in 1968.

REFORM DRIVE

Many of Macron’s lawmakers will be political novices, something which will change the face of parliament at the expense of the conservative and socialist parties which have ruled France for decades.

Macron will need to keep the diverse and politically raw group of lawmakers united behind him as he sets out to overhaul the labor code, cut tens of thousands of public-sector jobs and overhaul an unwieldy pension system.

Trade unions have said Macron must listen to their demands and not use his majority to bulldoze policy reforms through, or else face unrest.

“There has never been such a paradox between a high concentration of power and strong tensions and expectations in terms of changes,” Laurent Berger, head of France’s CFDT union, told the weekly Journal du Dimanche.

“There is no place for euphoria in victory. There is no providential man, no miracle solution”.

Macron’s rivals have urged voters not to stay at home, warning power could be too concentrated in the hands of one party and democratic debate stifled.

“We need other parties to have some weight,” 54-year-old assembly line worker Veronique Franqueville said on the parking lot of a tumble-dryer factory in the northern town of Amiens. “If he wins it all there will be no debate.”

If Macron wins the size of majority forecast, it means he will enjoy an absolute majority even without the support of alliance partner Francois Bayrou and his MoDem party.

That would lend him a freer hand for reforms and to reshuffle the government if he chose to do so.

UNDER PRESSURE

The election is set to send shockwaves through the older parties, with their unity, and even survival, at stake.

The conservative Republicans are expected to be the biggest opposition group in parliament. But polls see them securing no more than 90 to 95 seats out of 577.

Some Republican lawmakers could create a separate group to back Macron on a case-by-case basis. Others may see a future firmly in the opposition.

The Socialist Party, which ruled France until last month, faces a humiliating defeat, which could see them with no more than 25 to 35 seats.

The election also spells trouble for the far-right National Front, which is expected to win only one to six seats, after hoping not long ago to secure a “massive” presence in parliament. Its leader, Marine Le Pen, is expected to be among those who will be elected.

Far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon is also seen winning a seat in parliament. But polls are unclear as to whether his France Unbowed party will reach the 15-strong threshold required to be able to form a parliamentary group.

Polling stations closed at 6 p.m. local time (1600 GMT) in towns and villages but voting continues until 8 p.m. in Paris and other big cities.

At that time, pollsters will give projections of the result and official results will start trickling in.

(Additional reporting by Antoine Boddaert, Myriam Rivet, Cecile Mantovani and Celia Mebroukine; Editing by Richard Lough and Andrew Roche)

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