The year-old centrist party of French President Emmanuel Macron prepared Saturday for the first round of parliamentary elections looking set to grab the lead in the race for a clear majority.
Macron swept away far-right candidate Marine Le Pen to win the presidency on May 7, but has only achieved half the job.
Macron’s Republique en Marche (Republic on the Move, REM) party, which he only founded in April 2016 as a platform for his presidential bid, now needs a commanding majority in the National Assembly for him to implement the reforms he promised on the campaign trail.
A host of opinion polls show Macron’s party could take around 30 percent of the first-round vote on Sunday, which would put it in pole position to secure an absolute majority in the second round a week later.
That could equate to as many as 400 seats in the 577-seat chamber.
REM has already had a boost after its candidates came first in 10 of the 11 French overseas constituencies that have already voted.
The legislative elections are, like the presidential contest, held over two rounds.
If no candidate wins over 50% in the first round, the two top-placed go into the second round – as well as any candidate who won the votes of over 12.5% of the electorate.
Breaking the mould
French voters have traditionally rallied behind their new leader in the legislative elections that always follow the presidential ballot.
Macron’s predecessors Francois Hollande in 2012, Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 and Jacques Chirac in 2002 all won outright majorities. Unlike Macron, however, they all came from long-established parties.
REM has broken the mould of French politics. Initially dismissed by Macron’s opponents as a movement of metropolitan bright young activists without any real roots, it will field 530 candidates on Sunday.
In a bid to renew the political scene, many have never stood for office before, such as Marie Sara, a rare female bullfighter, who is taking on a senior member of Le Pen’s National Front in southern France, Gilbert Collard.
Some observers suggest Macron’s candidates are merely riding the wave of popularity of the new president and may offer little opposition to their boss once they are elected.
Cleaning up politics
Macron has banned all the REM candidates from employing family members if they are elected and they must not perform consultancy work while lawmakers.
The edicts follow the scandal that sunk the presidential chances of Francois Fillon, candidate for the rightwing Republicans party, who is facing criminal charges for paying his wife Penelope more than $1.0m as his parliamentary assistant. Fillon denies the accusations.
Given Macron’s attempts to clean up French politics, he faced embarrassment on Friday when his small centrist ally, the MoDem party, was placed under preliminary investigation on suspicion of employing fake parliamentary assistants at the European Parliament.
The investigation comes with one of Macron’s ministers, Richard Ferrand, also being probed over suspicions he favoured his wife in a property deal with a public health insurance fund when he headed the company.