External Affairs

France Elects a Diverse Parliament With Technocrats and Immigrants

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) attends a ceremony at the Mont Valerien memorial in Suresnes, near Paris, France, June 18, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Bertrand Guay/Pool

Paris: President Emmanuel Macron’s year-old Republic on the Move party (LREM) won a huge parliamentary majority that boasts scores of lawmakers never before elected – unprecedented in France and central to his promise to clean up the country’s politics.

Opponents had urged voters not to allow so much power to be concentrated in the hands of one party and warned Macron’s lawmakers would serve simply as an army of ‘godillots’, or yes men. Macron says they reflect French society.

Here are some of his candidates who are newcomers to national politics and won seats.

Herve Berville, Economist

Herve Berville, 27, is a Rwandan-born economist who survived the east African country’s 1994 genocide and was adopted by a French family in Brittany, western France.

The London School of Economics masters graduate with an easy smile will break the mould in a national assembly long dominated by white men. Berville won 64% of the vote, trouncing his conservative rival.

“The challenges that await us are immense. Our country needs a clear majority so that the government can act,” Berville appealed in one Facebook posting ahead of the second round.

Mounir Mahjoubi, Tech Entrepreneur

In his run for parliament, Mounir Mahjoubi, the 33-year-old son of Moroccan immigrants, saw off Socialist Party chief Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, who had held Paris’ working class 19 arrondissement seat for two decades.

Weeks ago, Mahjoubi was an unknown in France. Now he is the youngest member of Macron’s government, the computer whizzkid who shaped Macron’s digital campaign and helped counter a massive hacking attack days before the presidential election.

The tech entrepreneur’s reward: the job of junior minister for digital affairs.

“We’re younger, we’re campaigning differently, we are what France looks like,” Mahjoubi told Reuters as he canvassed support ahead of the June 11 first round.

Cedric Villani, Mathematician

With his shoulder-length hair, colourful ascot ties and spider brooches, Cedric Villani, a prize-winning mathematician is among the most recognisable faces on the campaign trail.

In 2010, he won the maths equivalent to the Nobel prize, the Fields Medal, for what the award called “proofs of nonlinear Landau damping and convergence to equilibrium of the Boltzmann equation”.

His more digestible work ‘Birth of a Theorem: a mathematical adventure’, is a journey through his unproductive lulls and late-night breakthroughs on the path to discovery. He entitled an online lecture ‘Why is maths so sexy’.

Villani won 47.46% in the first round, falling just short of the threshold to win his constituency without a run-off. In the second round, he trounced his conservative opponent with nearly 70% of the vote.

Brune Poirson, Academic High Flyer

Brune Poirson, 34, was elected in the Vaucluse county in southeastern France, beating the Front National’s Herve de Lepinau by 421 votes in a stronghold for the far-right party. Marion Marechal-Le Pen, the niece of party leader Marine Le Pen and grand daughter of its founder, previously held the seat.

Poirson, who has a master’s degrees in political science from both Harvard and the London School of Economics, and previously worked as an adviser on corporate social responsibility, said she decided to become a candidate for LREM after seeing a video Macron sent to party members in January urging more women to put themselves forward as candidates.

Aurore Berge, Local Elected Official

Thirty-year old Aurore Berge switched from the conservative The Republicans party to Macron’s LREM party earlier this year. She had been part of ex-prime minister Alain Juppe’s campaign team during his failed bid to become the conservative candidate for the presidential election.

Berge came under fire from past allies during the campaign for jumping ship.

But in a sign of how much loyalties and labels are blurred in a fast-changing political landscape, Juppe backed her election bid, even though they are now in rival camps.

Berge, who has served as a local elected official in the same area west of Paris, was in the spotlight in May last year when she denounced sexist comments from fellow local councillors.