End of Macron: Party crumbles ahead of elections as MPs defect – ‘Point of no return’
Several MPs are defecting from La République en Marche (LREM) just weeks before the local polls, piling the pressure on the crisis-hit Emmanuel Macron. The party now has 300 members of the National Assembly following more defections last week, down from 314 at the start of its term and tumbling towards the 289 representing an absolute majority in the lower house of parliament. Mr Macron’s popularity also continues to sink – recent opinion polls have shown just a third of people in France now view him favourably, with voters in the local elections expected to provide Marine Le Pen and her extreme right Rassemblement National with significant gains.
It’s a remarkable fall from grace for the French leader, when LREM scored a landslide parliamentary victory in 2017 in the wake of his dramatic rise to presidency when he was elected for office.
But that surge in popularity appears to have been short-lived, with those who initially embraced Mr Macron and his political revolution quickly losing faith in the President’s own party.
Frédérique Tuffnell, elected in Charente-Maritime on the west coast three years ago, quit LREM last week, and raged she had reached a “point of no return”.
She became the latest senior politician to express frustration over the way Mr Macron’s Government is trying to force through a radical reform of the pension system, which has led to widespread strikes and violence on French streets over recent weeks.
There was a syndrome of us all being very well behaved because we didn’t want to cause problems for the Government, but today there are lots of members of parliament who don’t want to play that role
Matthieu Orphelin was one of the first MPs to quit the ruling party a year ago, citing environmental concerns following the resignation of Mr Macron’s own Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot.
He said: “There have been many defections.
“There was a syndrome of us all being very well behaved because we didn’t want to cause problems for the Government, but today there are lots of members of parliament who don’t want to play that role.”
Political analysts claim the ability for Mr Macron’s Government to pass important legislation is not yet under threat as LREM can rely on the votes of a smaller party, François Bayrou’s Modem.
But the political storm clouds are gathering above the French leader as LREM’s leaders already begin to think about the next presidential and legislative elections in 2022.
Mr Macron has been under intense pressure following several months of violent protests by the gilets jaunes – better known as the yellow vests – who had been furious about his threat to impose a green tax on fuel, but later increased their demonstrations into wider anti-government protests.
These have been followed by crippling public sector strikes since the end of last year in protest at Mr Macron’s proposed pension reforms, with trade unions set for another strike in Paris on Monday.
Political scientist Vincent Martigny said: “LREM is a movement that revolves around its leader and whose political positions are very unclear, except that it’s liberal.
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“A whole current in the party thinks it’s going too far. They thought Macron represented continuity for (former Socialist president( François Hollande’s social democracy — and it’s not that at all.”
Mr Macron’s prospects in the local elections have been further damaged as some of his party’s most important members make ambitious plans of their own in a bid to take office in town hall contests throughout France.
The President’s own Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has joined forced with his former colleagues from the centre-right Les Républicains to run for Mayor in his home town Le Havre.
This would provide a stop-gap for Mr Philippe as he could be first in the firing line if Mr Macron problems continue to develop.
Bruno Bonnell, the MP for Villeurbanne near Lyon who is campaigning there in the local elections, claimed people “literally hate” Mr Macron – a feeling which has spread to his candidates.
He insisted most voters in the municipal elections are concerned with local, and not national, issues.
But in a warning to Mr Macron, he said: “The biggest risk is that while we would have Macron leading the country in 2022, it would be with a completely different make-up of the National Assembly and the Senate.
“But that is the price to be paid for the development of democracy.”
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