Clare BYRNE - He’s the man with the Midas touch - and French President Emmanuel Macron has proved it again, with his party projected to win an overwhelming majority in parliament after topping Sunday’s first round of voting.

Just four weeks after taking office and 14 months after founding his Republique en Marche (Republic on the Move) party, his candidates are poised to sweep aside parties that have dominated parliament for half a century. But the hardest part may lie ahead.

While REM is set to crush its rivals, the 39-year-old president could struggle to get his plans for far-reaching labour reforms past the fiery French streets. So far, however, he has enjoyed a political honeymoon. From Germany’s Angela Merkel to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leaders have been lining up for photo-ops with “le Kid”, as L’Express news weekly nicknamed him.

Resistance is futile, as US President Donald Trump found out when he tried - but failed - to dominate Macron in a memorable white-knuckle handshake at a NATO summit. A few days later Trump dropped a bombshell when he confirmed plans to pull the US out of the Paris climate accord. But he was arguably again upstaged by Macron, who replied with an English-language appeal to the world to “make our planet great again”, in a riff on Trump’s own slogan.

“France is in vogue again, France is cool,” Spain’s El Pais newspaper wrote, comparing the Macronmania to the Obamamania that swept the US after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008.

At home, Macron has adopted a divide-and-rule approach to opponents, wooing moderates from the left and the right to neuter the opposition. It’s a strategy that appears to have paid off.

“At the moment you could take a goat wearing a Macron badge and it would have a good chance of being elected,” joked BFMTV political commentator Christophe Barbier.

Innovator

The son of two doctors from the northeastern city of Amiens had made a career out of breaking the mould. The former investment banker is married to his 64-year-old former teacher Brigitte, a divorced mother of three whom he fell for as a teen. His path to France’s highest office is as unusual as their inter-generational love story.

Macron had never held elected office before throwing his hat into the ring to replace president Francois Hollande, two years after Hollande promoted him from political unknown to become economy minister. In a country where political careers have traditionally been built over decades, Macron took the risk of founding his own party rather than seek the nomination of the right or left.

First slip-up

Macron used his image as a moderniser to draw in thousands of volunteers to his party, which was modelled partly on Obama’s 2008 campaign.

The downfall of the Socialists and a scandal engulfing the conservative Republicans fuelled his rise, allowing him to lead the battle against the far-right’s Marine Le Pen whom he beat soundly in the election run-off.

While fans compare him to late US president John F. Kennedy he appears to be more inspired by Francois Mitterrand and Charles de Gaulle, two presidents remembered for their monarchical style.

Since his inauguration Macron has sought to restore lost prestige to the presidency, delivering his victory speech in front of the Louvre museum - a former royal palace - and hosting Russian President Vladimir Putin at Versailles palace. He has also kept a tight rein on communications, to minimise the risk of slip-ups. He failed to prevent one early blunder from being caught on camera, however.

During a recent visit to Brittany he was caught joking with officials about the flimsy “kwassa-kwassa” boats that transport migrants to the French Indian Ocean island of Mayotte in the Comoros archipelago. “The kwassa-kwassa doesn’t do much fishing, it carries Comorians,” he said laughing. The remark caused outrage given the thousands of migrants who have died in such crossings. Macron’s office later admitted to an “unfortunate quip that may have been hurtful”.

Macron headed for

huge majority

French voters have put President Emmanuel Macron’s party on course for a crushing parliamentary majority, though a record low turnout in the first round of voting raised concerns Monday over the strength of his future mandate.

Projections showed Macron continuing his centrist revolution, with his Republique en Marche (Republic on the Move, REM) party and its ally MoDem tipped to win between 400 and 445 seats in the 577-member National Assembly in next Sunday’s second round.

Such a share would give Macron - who founded his party just a year ago - one of the biggest parliamentary majorities the modern French state has seen.

“France is back,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe declared triumphantly, calling the result a vote for the president’s “confidence, will and daring”. But government spokesman Christophe Castaner admitted the 49 percent turnout - the lowest for six decades in such a vote - was “a failure of this election” and that Macron’s team would need to reach out to those who stayed away.

‘Monochrome parliament’

Former prime minister Alain Juppe of the rightwing Republicans said the mass stayaway by voters was a sign of “deep malaise” in the electorate and that a clean sweep by Macron would be bad for democracy.

“The stakes of the second round are clear,” said the Bordeaux mayor, calling for Republicans voters to turn out in force on Sunday. “Having a monochrome parliament is never good for democratic debate.” Ifop pollster Frederic Dabi said a virtual monopoly on power would up the ante for Macron. “The French will expect results”, he warned. Only four MPs - two of them from Macron’s slate - topped the 50 percent mark needed for election at the first round.

Official final results showed his year-old REM and allies MoDem winning 32.32 percent, ahead of the right-wing Republicans and its allies on 21.56 percent and the far-right National Front (FN) of Marine Le Pen on 13.20 percent.

The Socialists and their allies secured just 9.51 percent while the radical left and communists were on 13.74 percent.

Macron’s camp is expected to significantly boost its score in Sunday’s second round with voters fed up with mainstream politics keen to try out his team, half of which is composed of rookie politicians.

They include Marie Sara, a retired bullfighter, who is running neck-and-neck with FN stalwart Gilbert Collard in southern France, and star mathematician Cedric Villani running for office in the southern Paris suburb of Essonne.

The Republicans - who had hoped to rebound from their humiliation in the presidential vote - are shown trailing in second with a predicted 70-130 seats.

The FN, which has long complained that France’s winner-takes-all system discriminates against small parties, is meanwhile forecast to garner only between one and 10 seats.

The party’s result showed it struggling to rebound from Le Pen’s bruising defeat by Macron in May’s presidential run-off.

The FN’s deputy leader Florian Philippot admitted to “disappointment” and called on FN voters to turn out in force for the second round. The radical France Insoumise (France Unbowed) of leftist firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon and on-off Communist allies fell short of expectations.

The worst losses, however, were for the Socialists of Macron’s deeply unpopular predecessor Francois Hollande, who are predicted to lose around 200 seats - a historic rout that has thrown the party’s future into question.

Party leader Jean-Christophe Cambadelis and failed presidential candidate Benoit Hamon both crashed out of the running on Sunday.–AFP