Voting is under way in the final round of parliamentary elections in France tipped to give the centrist President Emmanuel Macron a massive majority and revolutionise the country’s political landscape.
The 39-year-old former banker, who was unknown to the public just three years ago, has defied all the unwritten rules of French politics with his meteoric rise to the top and now looks set to secure a position of almost unassailable power.
Polls said his La République En Marche (REM) party and its allies would take a massive majority of 400-470 seats in the 577-seat national assembly in the second round of voting, turbo-charging the president’s chances of driving through crucial economic reforms.
The Right-wing Les Républicains party and the Socialists, who between them have dominated the France’s political life for decades, were both set for humiliating losses.
Les Républicains and its allies are predicted to win 70-90 seats and the Socialists 20-30 seats, which is a loss for them of more than 200 seats after their five years in power under the highly unpopular president François Hollande.
An extreme left party, France Unbowed, led by firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon was seen winning five to 15 seats along with its Communist Party allies.
French president-elect Emmanuel Macron’s victory address
Mr Macron, a fervent pro-European who was economy minister during Mr Hollande’s reign, and his wife Brigitte flew late on Friday in an air force helicopter to Le Touquet and posed for selfies with locals before retiring to their holiday home in the town on the north coast.
The president was due to vote there on Sunday before heading back to Paris to wait for the results, based on usually accurate exit polls, to be announced at 8 pm local time.
Since defeating the far-Right leader Marine Le Pen in the presidential vote on May 7, Mr Macron has made a largely faultless start to his five-year stint in the Elysée, impressing voters at home and winning praise on the world stage after a lengthy handshake with US President Donald Trump and tough talk with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
His REM candidates have been pulled along in his afterglow, and now look set to consolidate their strong score in the first round of the parliamentary elections a week ago, which however were marred by the highest abstention rate in decades.
“You could take a goat and give it Macron’s endorsement and it would have a good chance of being elected,” veteran political analyst Christophe Barbier remarked recently.
The party is fielding a mix of centrists and moderate Left- and Right-wingers drawn from established parties, as well as complete newcomers including a star mathematician and a former bullfighter.
Such is their predicted domination that many opposition candidates appealed to voters this week to elect them simply to make sure there is proper scrutiny and a counter-weight in the parliament.
“Desperately seeking an opposition,” said the front-page headline of Le Parisien newspaper on Saturday.
Former right-wing prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has urged voters to remember that “we are not electing an emperor”.
Marine Le Pen concedes defeat to Emmanuel Macron
Macron has set reforming France’s rigid labour code, overhauling the national education system and introducing a new law to raise ethical standards in public life as his immediate priorities.
If the opinion poll predictions prove correct, he will have a relatively free hand to push his reforms through parliament.
But unions and others opposed to labour reform have already warned that they will take the fight to the streets.
Marine Le Pen, who has spent years successfully broadening the appeal of her eurosceptic and anti-immigrant party, was set for another defeat on Sunday, five weeks after Mr Macron beat her by 65%-35% in the presidential election.
The Front National (FN) was predicted to win between one and five seats, far below the dozens the party had initially hoped for.
But Ms Le Pen herself, who is tipped to enter the national parliament for the first time after being elected in her northern stronghold of Henin-Beaumont, looks safe from any attempt to oust her as party leader.
“There is no-one (in the FN) who would have the courage or sufficient political weight to try,” Jerome Fourquet of IFOP polling institute told the Telegraph, noting that the FN was very much a “family business” founded by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Ms Le Pen, who won the support of a third of voters in the presidential election, claims the real reason why Le Front National fails to win more seats is an unfair first-past-the-post electoral system that gives little voice to the millions who vote for the party.