Paris: French voters went back to the polls on Sunday for the first round of parliamentary elections that are tipped to give President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party a commanding majority.
Polling stations opened across France at 8:00 am (local time) and voting will continue in the largest cities until 8:00 pm (local time) with exit polls released immediately afterwards.
Macron has enjoyed a smooth start in the five weeks since he beat far-right candidate Marine Le Pen to become France’s youngest-ever president, naming a cabinet that crosses left- right lines and making a big impression at international summits.
His untested Republique en Marche (Republic on the Move, REM) party, which he only founded in April 2016, now needs a clear majority in the National Assembly for him to push through the reforms he has promised.
A host of opinion polls show Macron’s party taking around 30 per cent of the vote on Sunday, putting it in pole position to secure a landslide in the second round next Sunday.
Some predictions show REM could take around 400 seats in the 577-seat chamber. The party has already had a boost after its candidates came first in 10 of the 11 French overseas constituencies that voted before the mainland.
If no candidate wins over 50 per cent 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 per cent of the electorate.
More than 50,000 police will be on patrol in a country still under a state of emergency following a wave of attacks that have killed more than 230 people since 2015.
In the latest incident, which took place on Tuesday, a 40-year-old self-radicalised Algerian was shot and wounded after attacking a policeman with a hammer outside Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral.
French voters have traditionally rallied behind their new leader in the legislative elections that 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 reflects the president’s desire for a new brand of politics.
Initially dismissed by Macron’s opponents as a movement of 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.
Macron has banned all REM candidates from employing family members if elected and they must not perform consultancy work while lawmakers.