PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron's 14-month-old party appears set to win a huge majority in parliamentary elections Sunday, meeting one of his most emblematic campaign promises: to bring new faces into politics.
While some worry that the new National Assembly will be full of people whose only common ideology is loyalty to the pro-business, pro-European president, many voters seem excited about Macron's promise to renew France's political landscape.
"We cannot do worse" than past legislators, farmer and candidate Jean-Baptiste Moreau told The Associated Press, "and I even think we're going to do better." "For 30 years there were full of very experienced people, and we cannot say it's a great success," said Moreau, a 40-year-old from the Creuse region in central France who has a good chance to win his race Sunday as a member of Macron's movement, The Republic on the Move!
On Sunday, 513 candidates will compete under the party banner for the 577 seats in the National Assembly, France's lower house of parliament, in the second round of the two-part legislative elections. Two others were already elected outright in the first round.
Half are women, many candidates are young, and they are often unknown to most of the voters in their districts. Observers stressed that Macron's success, and the low turnout rate of less than 50 percent last Sunday, show the disaffection of French voters from traditional politics.
Mireille Robert, 55, heads a primary school in a village in the Aude region, in southwestern France. She decided to get into politics under Macron's banner and was chosen among 19,000 people who applied to seek a legislative seat.
She expressed surprise at her first position in the first round, 10 points ahead of Socialist rival in a district that had voted for the left for decades. "It all went so fast," she said in a phone interview this week, just after getting pupils into school. "I live day by day."
French voters "want to see people that look like them at National Assembly," she said. Robert is not worried about her lack of political experience if she's elected Sunday. "Unlike old politicians, our daily life is complicated ... Everyday, we must adapt, we are facing concerns, problems, and we make it work, we overcome them. So there's no reason why we couldn't do the job," she said.
Robert compared the situation to 1789 French Revolution when the people's representatives came to Paris. She feels as if living "something very strong, probably historic, and we're going to take part in it."
Farmer Moreau said his decision to run for parliament has already changed his life. He travelled 3,500 kilometers (2,100 miles) in a month to campaign, didn't see much of his family, and now plans to hire a manager to take care of his farm if he's elected.
Another supporter of Macron, Laetitia Avia, a 31-year-old lawyer, won almost 40 percent of the votes in her Paris district last Sunday, eliminating from the race a well-known Socialist contender who used to be vice president of the National Assembly.
She said the government should be aware that new lawmakers won't just follow ministers' voting instructions; they intend to debate the laws. "Yes we have character, yes we have ideas, yes we're going to challenge the government. That's also the role of the lawmakers to monitor government action," she said on France Info radio.
Macron's movement was comfortably leading after last Sunday's first round, with more than 32 percent of the vote. Pollsters estimate The Republic on the Move! could end up with as many as 450 seats. Candidates from the conservative party, The Republicans, are expected to form the largest opposition group, with about 70 to 110 seats. Others parties will share the rest.
The Socialists, who dominated the outgoing Assembly, could win as few as 20 seats, probably just slightly more than the far-left. The far-right National Front should get a few seats — up from only two under previous term — including one for its leader, Marine Le Pen, competing in Henin-Beaumont in northern France.
Macron plans to use his expected majority to start passing a string of laws as soon as the new parliamentary session opens on June 27. The government will present a bill to make some extraordinary security measures permanent beyond the end of the state of emergency that has been in place since 2015 attacks in Paris.
Another bill aims at introducing more ethics into politics after years of corruption scandals. The most sensitive measure is a pro-free-market labor reform that would notably ease hiring and firing has already prompted criticism from unions. The government wants to push it through a special procedure at parliament that goes faster and doesn't allow lawmakers to amend the text, with the aim of implementing it by the end of the year.
All bills have to pass through both houses of parliament, with the National Assembly having the final word over the Senate, currently led by a conservative majority.