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3Novices:Demise of Marine Le Pen the latest blow to Europe's right-wing populists

NICE // France's new centrist president Emmanuel Macron is set to complete a stunning rise to power on Sunday, as polls predict an overwhelming victory for his party in parliamentary elections at the expense of the far-right Front National and traditional parties.

The predicted result for the second round of voting on June 18 represents another major setback for Europe's right-wing populist movements, coming after the collapse of the UK Independence Party in Britain's general election and the defeat in the Netherlands of Geert Wilders's anti-Islam PVV, or so-called Freedom Party.

The Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, is well placed to enter France's National Assembly for the first time after winning 46 per cent of the first-round vote in the northern FN stronghold of Henin-Beaumont.

But after her crushing defeat by Mr Macron in the presidential elections in May last month, having too few MPs for her party to be considered an organised group in parliament - the minimum is 15 - would amount to a personal failure.

Despite having led in polls until the final stages of the election, Ms Le Pen was widely regarded as having fought a poor campaign - its lowest point an ill-tempered display against a cool Mr Macron in a televised debate four days before the decisive second round on May 7.

Even her party criticised her performance, saying she placed too much emphasis on attacking her opponent and not enough on policy.

Ms Le Pen claims the true reason for her party's failure to win seats is an unfair first-past-the-post electoral system that gives little voice to the millions who vote FN.

But the reality is that Mr Macron has risen from the political wilderness, tainted by a stint as economy minister in Francois Hollande's unpopular socialist government, to a position of apparently unassailable strength.

His new party, La Republique En Marche! (Forward the Republic), and its allies won a 32 per cent leading share of the vote in the first round of legislative elections on Sunday, despite many among his army of candidates having little or no experience in politics.

The untried candidates with a strong chance of winning seats in this Sunday's deciding round include celebrity mathematician Cedric Villani, female former bullfighter Marie Sara, horror film producer Laurent Zameczkowski, Rwandan refugee Herve Berville and Jean-Michel Fauvergue, a former head of Raid, an elite police unit used to combat terrorists and dangerous gangsters.

Polls for Sunday's vote vary but only on the extent of a landslide win for Mr Macron's party.

Current projections suggest it will win 390 to 440 of the 557 seats, with the main conservative party, Les Republicains, and allies far behind on between 85 to 125. The socialists and other left parties are predicted to be left with fewer than 40 seats, while Ms Le Pen's party is projected to win between three and 10.

But the forecasts carry a warning: the first round of voting saw massive abstention, a record 51.3 per cent, and any success by Mr Macron's opponents in encouraging people to vote in larger numbers could alter the expected composition of parliament.

The real test facing Mr Macron is still to come. France's powerful trade unions are certain to try to block his planned contentious labour law and pensions reforms with disruptive strikes and mass protests.

Although the new president has made a confident start to his five-year term, he is already making enemies in the media.

First, the Elysee palace was suspected of trying to control which correspondents were sent by news organisations to cover an overseas presidential trip. Then, Mr Macron's labour minister, Muriel Penicaud, formally lodged allegations of criminality that indirectly targeted two newspapers over leaked documents on the proposed employment law reforms.

"The new government proclaims its desire to renew political life," wrote Laurent Joffrin, editor of the left-of-centre Liberation newspaper. "Is it the renewal of democracy or the restoration of a domineering republic where those in power decide in secret and citizens who are too curious are told, 'Move along, there's nothing to see'."

Yet Mr Macron may be unwise to depend too much on the subservience of his MPs. Observers say his senior aides have already made clear he expects tight discipline and not talking out of turn.

Laetitia Avia, 31, a Parisian lawyer and the daughter of low-paid Tologese immigrants who is part of Mr Macron's team said after topping the first-round poll in her Paris constituency: "We have personality, we have reflection. We will challenge the government - that is our role."

foreign.desk@thenational.ae



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