Man in a hurry

French President Emmanuel Macron congratulates Clermont's rugby players on June 4, 2017 at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, outside ParisImage copyright

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Emmanuel Macron is enjoying a honeymoon period as president but will it last?

He swept aside all his political rivals to claim the presidency in May, but President Emmanuel Macron has done only half the job.

Never elected before, he leads a party with no MPs and seeks a similar upheaval in France’s National Assembly to push through the changes he promises.

French voters return to the polls in a two-stage parliamentary election on 11 and 18 June.

So can he do it?

The polls say he can. They consistently give Mr Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) a clear lead over his rivals.

Recent polls suggest LREM may attract 30% of the vote, well ahead of the centre-right Republicans and far-right National Front (FN). Significantly, that would give him at least 330 of the National Assembly’s 577 and possibly far more.

Voters across the country want to give Mr Macron the leeway to implement his agenda, Philippe Marlière, professor of French politics at University College London, told the BBC.

His party already has a boost from early first-round results abroad, where LREM candidates came first in 10 of the 11 overseas constituencies. The yellow-shaded areas of the map below show the areas where he beat his political rivals in the first round of the presidential election.

How does the election work?

The poll to select 577 deputies in the lower house of parliament is held over two rounds, the same as the presidential election.

Thousands of candidates take part in the first round, and anyone who secures 50% of the constituency vote on a minimum turnout of 25% will win in the first round.

Otherwise, the vote goes to a run-off in which any candidate with at least 12.5% of the vote can stand. That differs from the presidential vote, where only the top two candidates go through.

While the system gives France’s 47 million voters the chance to vote for their favourite without tactical considerations in the first round, ultimately it favours big parties, says Prof Marlière.

LREM needs 289 seats for a minimum absolute majority.

If, as the polls suggest, the National Front attracts around 18% of the vote, it will do well to win 15 seats in the Assembly. And this is a party that came second in the presidential election with 10.6 million votes.

That is because, as in the UK, the winner in each constituency vote takes all. In the last vote in 2012 it won just two seats.

How has Macron’s party mobilised this quickly?

It is quite an achievement. His movement was created only in April 2016 and had only a handful of candidates before he won the presidency on 7 May.

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Getty Images/LREM

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Among the women standing for LREM are (L-R) Marie Sara, Brigitte Liso, Anne Roquet and Corinne Versini

Within days, a buoyant LREM had managed to recruit candidates to fight 526 constituencies out of a possible 577. Of these, 266 are women and 219 come from civil society.

The party already had activist structures in place. A grassroots network of campaigners knocked on some 300,000 doors to take the voter temperature and sculpt policy proposals ahead of Mr Macron’s election bid – an initiative known as the Grande Marche (Big March).

But this operation for the legislative elections, says Prof Marlière, was a highly centralised business, almost military in character.

“It had to be – if you’re starting from scratch, democracy knows its limits.”

The thousands who declared an interest were efficiently whittled down to the final list.

“They tend to be very middle-class, very white on the whole, and half are absolute newcomers to politics. It’s the unknown – nonetheless most of them look set to be elected,” says Prof Marlière.

Who are the ones to watch?

There are a number of colourful characters in the Macron camp – a retired bullfighter in Arles, Marie Sara; an eclair entrepreneur in Lille, Brigitte Liso; a Rwandan refugee in Brittany, Hervé Berville; and Cédric Villani, a “mathematics evangelist” known for his unique dress sense including large spider brooches.

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Getty Images

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In one of the big races in Paris, Socialist Jean-Christophe Cambadélis (L) is being challenged by Mounir Mahjoubi

A number of the constituency races will be worth watching, including:

  • Will Manuel Valls, the unpopular Socialist ex-prime minister rejected as a candidate by both LREM and the Socialists, be ousted from his Essonne seat by Dieudonné MBala MBala, a notorious comic convicted of hate speech, or singer Francis Lalanne – in a 20-candidate contest described by some as a “circus”?
  • Will it be third time lucky for FN leader Marine Le Pen in the Pas-de-Calais department of northern France – or will she fall to LREM novice Anne Roquet?
  • Will LREM junior minister Mounir Mahjoubi, 33, oust Socialist Party leader Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, 65, from a seat in Paris that he has held for 20 years?
  • Will radical-left former presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon win his battle in Marseille against sitting Socialist Patrick Menucci and LREM first-timer, Corinne Versini?

If it wins, can La République en Marche keep its promises?

No-one yet knows, says Prof Marlière, who sees the role of French president, according to the constitution, as the most powerful political position in Europe.

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A book does not a revolution make

“What Macron is doing,” he says, “is appealing to the right wing of the Socialists and also to the centre right: that’s really about creating something new. Normally you don’t put together these two sides.”

New parties have challenged for power in Europe before, in Spain and in Italy. But few have gone into government, such as the left-wing Syriza party in Greece, and it has struggled to live up to its campaign promises.

The task for President Macron will be to hold together the left and right elements of his party, while still purporting to hold the centre ground. His first big test will be his planned labour reforms, leaked drafts of which have already angered France’s powerful trade unions.

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