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Socialist Party chief vs tech guru - France's shifting political landscape
June 9, 2017 / 1:40 PM / 3 months ago

Socialist Party chief vs tech guru - France's shifting political landscape

French Junior Minister in Charge of Digital Mounir Mahjoubi arrives at the Elysee Palace to attend the weekly cabinet meeting in Paris, France, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/Files

PARIS (Reuters) - Mounir Mahjoubi was aged four when Jean-Christophe Cambadelis was first elected a Paris lawmaker for the Socialist Party nearly three decades ago. Now the tech entrepreneur is vying for his seat in a battle that embodies France’s political upheaval.

It is a contest that pits a white, 65-year-old career politician against a 33-year-old son of Moroccan immigrants who has never held elected office - a test of the public desire for political renewal promised by centrist President Emmanuel Macron.

Mahjoubi, a newly-appointed junior minister, is running on a ticket for Macron’s Republic on the Move (LREM) party. Opinion polls show the party on course to win the biggest majority in parliament in decades, upending mainstream parties only a year after its creation.

On its candidate list are seasoned lawmakers and political novices who include a bullfighter and mathematician.

“We’re younger, we’re campaigning differently, we are what France looks like,” Mahjoubi told Reuters as he canvassed support in his working class constituency in northern Paris.

Macron won the presidency a month ago. He needs a majority to push through his reforms, including overhauling labour laws to make hiring and firing easier, cutting corporate tax, and investing billions of euros in renewable energy and job training.

In Mahjoubi’s constituency, as across France, Macron’s promise to clean up politics and be neither right nor left is striking a chord with voters fed up with high unemployment and a political elite perceived as out of touch.

“We want to give the president a majority so he can work,” said voter Regina Biladi, a 46-year-old civil servant.

The two-round legislative election takes place on June 11 and 18.

Mounir Mahjoubi, candidate in French Parliamentary elections for Macron's party and digital campaign director for Emmanuel Macron, candidate for the 2017 French presidential election of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, poses at their campaign headquarters in Paris, France, April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Files

SHIFTING LANDSCAPE

In a neighbourhood with a long tradition of voting left, victory is not assured for Mahjoubi, a self-described geek who is Macron’s junior minister for digital affairs.

In another telling sign of the shifting political landscape, Mahjoubi’s chief challenger may not be Cambadelis but a young teacher from Jean-Luc Melenchon’s far-left France Unbowed party.

Mounir Mahjoubi, candidate in French Parliamentary elections for Macron's party and digital campaign director for Emmanuel Macron, candidate for the 2017 French presidential election of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, poses at their campaign headquarters in Paris, France, April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Files

Support for Melenchon surged during his presidential campaign as the Socialist Party of former president Francois Hollande fought for its survival.

Melenchon won 30 percent of votes in Mahjoubi’s constituency in the first round of the presidential vote, just ahead of Macron. Macron went on to win some nine in ten votes there in the run-off against the far-right’s Marine Le Pen.

While opinion polls show conservative party The Republicans polling second nationally in the legislative vote, they are weak in northern Paris.

The emergence of Macron and his LREM has threatened the unity of the Socialist Party and The Republicans like in no other election cycle. His rivals have been left warning voters that a landslide majority for Macron would be a danger to democracy.

“We shouldn’t have a monopolistic party,” former Socialist prime minister Bernard Cazeneuve said as he joined Cambadelis on the campaign trail.

“The French people are hesitating, some want to give him (Macron) a chance, others want a balance of powers. Where will the balance lie, no one knows,” Cambadelis said.

He pointed out to voters that Mahjoubi, an unknown until he led Macron’s efforts to fend off cyber attacks during the presidential campaign, will not sit in parliament if he wins but stay in government and pass his legislative duties to a deputy.

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau and Michel Rose; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Richard Lough

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