The French president Emmanuel Macron’s new centrist movement has won a large majority in the French parliament, taking 351 out of 577 seats.
Macron’s fledgling “neither right nor left” political movement, La République en Marche (La REM), and its smaller centrist ally Democratic Movement (MoDem) needed 289 seats to have an absolute majority.
The win will hand the new president a relatively free rein to implement his plans to change French labour law, and overhaul unemployment benefits and pensions.
But the results were tempered by a record low turnout of around 43%. Abstention was particularly high in low-income areas, reopening the debate about France’s social divide.
The traditional right and left parties that had dominated parliament and government for decades saw their presence in the assembly shrink significantly, confirming the redrawing of the French political landscape that began when the Socialists and the rightwing Républicains were knocked out in the first round of spring’s presidential election.
The French right, which only a year ago had believed the presidential and parliamentary elections impossible to lose, was on track for its worst parliamentary score in France’s postwar Fifth Republic. Les Républicains and its allies were forecast to see their number of seats shrink to around 125 – low, but higher than was forecast after the poor first-round showing last week.
The Socialist party was the biggest loser, expecting to shed more than 200 seats and hold only around 34 seats – again, better than forecast, but still a drubbing. The party’s leader, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, immediately stood down.
The scale of Macron’s absolute majority shows the extent to which the new president, a newcomer to party politics, has managed to transform the French political landscape in record time. Sixteen months ago, his LREM movement did not exist. Now it is set to dominate legislation and win a vast injection of subsidies.
Macron’s prime minister Edouard Philippe said: “Through this vote, the French people have showed they preferred hope to anger, optimism to pessimism, confidence to closing in on oneself.” He added: “Abstention is never good news for democracy and the low turnout meant the government had “an ardent obligation to succeed.”
Macron’s government spokesman Christophe Castaner, who was elected to parliament, said: “The French people have given us a clear majority, but they didn’t want to give us a blank cheque. It’s a responsibility. The real victory will be in five years time when things will have really changed.”
He said: “There is a strong majority, there’s a will for things to change.”
A record number of women were elected to parliament – 223, or 38.65%, with the highest numbers among the centrists and hard-left.
There was also a very high number of first-time MPs – around three quarters of the parliament seats went to people who had never sat in the National Assembly before.
The far-right Front National, which currently has two seats in parliament, was predicted to win up to eight seats, better than its first-round showing had indicated.
The party said its leader, Marine Le Pen, had won a seat in the northern, former coal-mining heartlands around Hénin-Beaumont in the Pas-de-Calais. She will sit in parliament for the first time after four attempts in the past to win a seat.
The FN had been seeking to reach the 15-seat threshold to form a parliamentary group that would give it more speaking time and access to top roles within the assembly. Le Pen had been criticised for failing to capitalise on the 10.6m votes she won when she came second in the presidential election last month.
Le Pen said: “The abstention rate considerably weakens the legitimacy of the new parliament … Even if Macron has won a strong majority, he should know that his ideas are in a minority in this country.”
Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s new hard-left movement, France Unbowed, was projected to win around 19 seats. François Ruffin, the journalist and film-maker behind an award-winning blockbuster documentary on textile workers, tweeted that he had won a seat for France Unbowed in the northern area of the Sommes, confounding the predictions in favour of his opponent from Macron’s party.
Mélenchon said the “crushing abstention rate” showed France no longer believed in the French voting system and had gone on “civic strike”. He said the abstention rate meant Macron’s party did not have any legitimacy to unpick French labour laws.
Around half of the candidates for Macron’s new centrist party are virtual unknowns drawn from diverse fields of academia, business or local activism. They include a mathematician, a former bullfighter and anti-corruption magistrates. The number of women in parliament is expected to rise sharply.