France renews half of senators' seats, a test for Macron

 
 
Posted9/22/2017 7:00 AM
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  • FILE - This Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014 file photo shows a general view of France's Senate prior to a vote on the recognition of a Palestinian state, Paris, France. On Sunday, France will elect nearly half its Senate, in a vote that is expected to illustrate the slide in President Emmanuel Macron's popularity since his election earlier this year.

    FILE - This Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014 file photo shows a general view of France's Senate prior to a vote on the recognition of a Palestinian state, Paris, France. On Sunday, France will elect nearly half its Senate, in a vote that is expected to illustrate the slide in President Emmanuel Macron's popularity since his election earlier this year. Associated Press

  • FILE - In this Thursday, May 5, 2016 file photo, Parisians take the sun in the Luxembourg Garden next the French Senate, seen in background, in Paris, France. On Sunday, France will elect nearly half its Senate, in a vote that is expected to illustrate the slide in President Emmanuel Macron's popularity since his election earlier this year.

    FILE - In this Thursday, May 5, 2016 file photo, Parisians take the sun in the Luxembourg Garden next the French Senate, seen in background, in Paris, France. On Sunday, France will elect nearly half its Senate, in a vote that is expected to illustrate the slide in President Emmanuel Macron's popularity since his election earlier this year. Associated Press

PARIS -- On Sunday, France will elect nearly half its Senate, in a vote that is expected to illustrate the slide in President Emmanuel Macron's popularity since his election earlier this year.

A look at what's at stake for his government and upcoming reforms.

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THE ELECTION

The election involves around half of the Senate - or 171 of the chamber's 348 seats. The senators, who will be elected for six-year terms, are chosen by more than 75,000 elected officials, including members of the National Assembly, mayors, regional and local councilors.

French Senators debate and vote laws along with the National Assembly, France's lower house of parliament. However, the National Assembly, where Macron's party has a large majority, has the final say.

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IN-BUILT BIAS

Sunday's elections are expected to consolidate the Senate's conservative majority, now composed of 142 members of The Republicans party.

Macron's newly created centrist party, La Republique En Marche, or Republic On the Move, currently has 29 seats. The party hopes to reach 50 senators.

The voting system, based on elected officials, tends to give an advantage to locally rooted politicians from traditional parties, rather than the candidates of Macron's party, many of whom are newcomers in politics. Many local elected officials have recently been upset by Macron's plan to slash budgets of local authorities and that could see the president's allies getting fewer votes than might have been the case a few months ago.

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MACRON'S CHALLENGING CONTEXT

The election come in the wake of Macron's declining popularity since his election in May. Budget cuts, including a decrease in housing aid for students, have contributed to his lower poll rating as has a divisive labor reform package that will involve the use of a special procedure to avoid a lengthy debate at parliament.

The reforms have prompted strikes and demonstrations as unions protest against the weakening the country's famous workers protections.

Further protests are scheduled Saturday following a call from hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon.

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UPCOMING REFORMS

Macron's party will seek an alliance at the Senate with other centrists, some center-leaning Socialists and some members of The Republicans party, in the hope of pass some controversial bills more swiftly.

The president may well need the help to make changes to unemployment benefits and the pension system next year as well as to the French Constitution. He has suggested the scrapping of the special justice court for government members and limiting lawmakers to three terms.

To do that without calling a referendum, Macron needs a three-fifths majority vote by parliament - that is 555 out of 925 lawmakers at the Assembly and the Senate.

That implies support from lawmakers from other parties.

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