French projections: Macron’s centrists to keep a majority

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance is expected to keep its parliamentary majority after the first round of voting, according to projections Sunday.

Projections based on partial election results showed that at the national level, Macron’s party and its allies got about 25-26% of the vote. That made them neck-in-neck with a new leftist coalition composed of hard-left, Socialists and Green party supporters. Yet Macron’s candidates are projected to win in a greater number of districts than their leftist rivals, giving the president a majority.

More than 6,000 candidates, ranging from 18 to 92, were running Sunday for 577 seats in France’s National Assembly in the first round of the election.

The two-round voting system is complex and not proportionate to the nationwide support for a party. For French races that did not have a decisive winner on Sunday, up to four candidates who get at least 12.5% support will compete in a second round of voting on June 19.

Consumer concerns about rising inflation have dominated the campaign but still voter enthusiasm has been muted. That was reflected in Sunday’s turnout, which showed that less than half of France’s 48.7 million voters had cast ballots.

Hard-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who had hoped the election would vault him into the prime minister’s post, was among only a trickle of voters as he cast his ballot in Marseille, a southern port city.

On France’s opposite coast, a small crowd gathered to watch Macron as he arrived to vote in the English Channel resort town of Le Touquet.

Following Macron’s reelection in May, his centrist coalition was seeking an absolute majority that would enable it to implement his campaign promises, which include tax cuts and raising France’s retirement age from 62 to 65.

Yet Sunday’s projection show Macron’s party and allies could have trouble getting more than half the seats at the Assembly this time around. A government with a large but not absolute majority would still be able to rule, but would have to seek some support from opposition legislators.

Polling agencies estimated that Macron’s centrists could win from 255 to over 300 seats, while Mélenchon’s leftist coalition could win more than 200 seats. The National Assembly has final say over the Senate when it comes to voting in laws.

Mélenchon’s platform includes a significant minimum wage increase, lowering the retirement age to 60 and locking in energy prices, which have been soaring due to the war in Ukraine. He is an anti-globalization firebrand who has called for France to pull out of NATO and “disobey” EU rules.

Even though Macron beat far-right rival Marine Le Pen in the presidential runoff, France’s parliamentary election is traditionally a difficult race for far-right candidates. Rivals from other parties tend to coordinate or step aside to boost chances of defeating far-right candidates in the second round of voting.

Le Pen’s far-right National Rally hopes to do better than five years ago, when it won eight seats. With at least 15 seats, the far right would be allowed to form a parliamentary group and gain greater powers at the assembly.

Le Pen herself is a candidate for reelection in her stronghold of Henin-Beaumont, in northern France, where she cast her ballot Sunday.

Outside a voting station in a working-class district of Paris, voters debated whether to support Macron’s party for the sake of smooth governance and keeping out extremist views, or to back his opponents to ensure that more political perspectives are heard.

“When you have a parliament that’s not completely in line with the government, that enables more interesting conversations and discussions,” said Dominique Debarre, retired scientist. “But on the other hand, cohabitation (a split political situation) is always in some way a sign of failure.”

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Jeffrey Schaeffer in Paris, Daniel Cole in Marseille and Alex Turnbull in Le Touquet, France contributed.