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Not just a new president, new faces for France’s parliament

By on May 11, 2017

By Elaine Ganley and John Leicester

PARIS — A female fighter pilot, a farmer, a teacher, people out of work. They all applied for the job — and got it, among more than 19,000 people hoping to become candidates in June elections for the French parliament under the banner of President-elect Emmanuel Macron.

Renewing a political landscape long bogged down with out-of-touch parties and long-serving politicians was a central campaign promise and the eclectic mix of candidates speaks to Macron’s desire to pull the plug on a system he deems broken.

On Thursday, his Republic on the Move party announced an initial slate of 428 candidates for France’s 577-seat National Assembly. It was a potpourri of citizens, more than half of whom, like Macron, have never held elected office. Their shared goal: to deliver Macron the parliamentary majority he needs to govern effectively and pull France out of its economic doldrums and social funk.

French President-elect Emmanuel Macron poses with supporters after a ceremony commemorating the abolition of slavery, in Paris, Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (Christophe Ena/AP)

French President-elect Emmanuel Macron poses with supporters after a ceremony commemorating the abolition of slavery, in Paris, Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (Christophe Ena/AP)

The average age of the candidates who made the cut is 46 — compared to 60 for the outgoing assembly. Half are women and half are men. Only 5 percent — 24 — were lawmakers in the outgoing parliament, all Socialists.

“Our candidates signal the permanent return of the citizen to the heart of our political life,” party secretary-general Richard Ferrand said in announcing the partial slate.

The candidates offer a taste of how Macron’s grassroots, startup-style movement sought to recruit outside the circle of career politicians.

Among them is Jean-Michel Fauvergue, the commander of the elite RAID police unit that took down the Islamic State cell that carried out the Nov. 13, 2015, Paris attacks, including its ring leader Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was killed in the operation.

Another is Claire Tassadit Houd, whose sister, Djamila, was among the 130 people killed in the attacks.

Would-be candidates were asked to sign up on the party’s website and submit a resume and letter explaining their motivation. More than 19,000 applied and resumes are still coming in.

“I signed up right from the beginning,” said Jean-Baptiste Moreau, a 40-year-old farmer who is contesting a seat in the Creuse region of central France where he lives.

Moreau said he was drawn by the profile of the 39-year-old Macron, who will be France’s youngest president when he takes office Sunday, and by the party’s efforts to make grassroots ideas part of its campaign platform.

“If I’m elected, I don’t want to become a political professional. I’ll serve one or two terms,” he said.

Mireille Robert, who heads a primary school in a village of 1,000 people in the Aude region of southwestern France, will be up against a local Socialist Party heavyweight.

In a telephone interview, the 55-year-old Robert said one of her main motives for getting into politics under Macron’s banner is fighting the rise of political extremism in France.

Macron, a centrist upstart, won Sunday’s presidential election by a landslide, defeating far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who had hoped to ride the wave of rising nationalism in Europe. Despite her defeat, Le Pen achieved the highest-ever score for her National Front party, which has a history of anti-Semitism and racism. Far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon got nearly 20 percent of the vote in the first-round vote.

In the village of Pieusse where Robert lives, Le Pen received 271 votes in Sunday’s runoff, five more than Macron’s 266.

“That’s really scary,” Robert said. “I feel like we are in danger.”

New to politics, she said she plans small gatherings to discuss local issues, rather than hold large rallies with prepared speeches. Her family is well-known in the area for its sparkling wine, which she believes will help her win support.

“Yes, we can,” she said. “It’s going to be a great experience.”

The French political landscape was upended by Sunday’s presidential race, which saw mainstream parties, including the Socialists who had governed for the past five years under outgoing President Francois Hollande, eliminated in favor of the untested Macron.

Macron himself parachuted into his first government position as economy minister in Hollande’s Socialist government from a job as an investment banker, and won election by offering something new.

His party’s parliamentary candidates’ atypical profiles show “a need to renew faces” in a country that has traditionally recycled its politicians for decades, said Macron’s spokesman, Benjamin Griveaux.

Among those who won’t be on the party slate is outgoing Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who recently resigned along with his government, though he tried for a spot.

Valls has held three parliamentary terms and is not a member of Macron’s party, making him ineligible under the strict terms the party has set out for candidates.

“We won’t change our criteria, no special treatment,” said Ferrand, the party secretary-general.

But, he added, the party won’t put up a candidate to oppose Valls in his district of Evry, south of Paris. “We note the singularity of this prime minister in office in recent years,” he said.

Jean Launay, a former lawmaker who was involved in the candidate selection process, said a dozen or so others who weren’t selected also won’t face an opponent from Macron’s party. The full list of candidates must be submitted by May 19.

Launay, who spent 19 years as a Socialist lawmaker before joining forces with Macron’s party, dismissed concerns over the lack of political experience of the novice candidates.

“You can’t on the one hand call for political renewal and on the other say ‘They know nothing! They won’t be up to the job!’ I too was a political baby when I got to the National Assembly in 1998. … I had to learn everything,” he said. “They’ll learn.”


Associated Press writers Samuel Petrequin and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

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