PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party suffered its first electoral blow Sunday, as rival conservatives dominated the Senate election amid mounting disenchantment with Macron’s leadership.
The results damage Macron’s legitimacy as he embarks on pushing through unpopular changes to French labour law and other reforms he hopes will reinvigorate the moribund French economy.
Macron could still pass his reforms despite the election result, because the lower house of Parliament has the final say in legislation over the Senate and because lawmakers from the conservative Republicans party support many of Macron’s pro-business policy plans.
Partial results from the Interior Ministry showed the Republicans on track to keep their majority in the Senate after Sunday’s vote for about half the Senate’s 348 seats.
French broadcasters’ projections forecast the Republicans having between 146 and 156 seats in the new Senate, up from 142.
Francois Patriat of Macron’s Republic on the Move! party said it was expected to win between 20 and 30 seats — far less than the 50 it was aiming for. That’s a big blow after it won a large majority in the June election for the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a success,” Patriat said on BFM television about Sunday’s result.
It’s the first time Macron’s party competed in France’s Senate election since he created it to shake up French politics and attract voters tired of the status quo. It’s now likely to seek alliances in the Senate with other centrists and moderate Republicans and Socialists.
Senators are not chosen by the public but by some 75,000 elected officials — mayors, legislators, regional and local councillors — across the country.
The Senate voting system tends to give an advantage to local politicians from traditional parties instead of candidates of Macron’s party, many of whom are political newcomers. Also, many local officials are upset by Macron’s plan to slash the budgets of local authorities.
The election also comes as Macron’s popularity is on the wane, just four months into his presidency.
Tens of thousands of people protested Saturday in Paris over Macron’s labour law changes that they fear are dismantling the French way of life — and more protests and strikes are ahead. Truckers plan to blockade streets and fuel depots on Monday.
Macron insists the labour law changes — which reduce union powers and give companies more freedom to lay off workers — are need to create jobs and compete globally.
The lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, has the final say in French lawmaking, but Macron also needs broad support in the Senate to follow through on other major changes he has promised, notably to unemployment benefits, the pension system and the French Constitution.