By Johnny Cotton and Elizabeth Pineau
ANGERVILLE-LA-CAMPAGNE, France (Reuters) – Eighty-year old Francois Bibes has voted for the left all his life. But the former mayor of a village in western France will back Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire, a long-time conservative, in Sunday’s parliamentary election.
Across France, many other voters are also expected to switch parties in an election likely to reshape the political landscape after centrist Emmanuel Macron won the presidency last month.
Le Maire, standing as candidate for Macron’s new party rather than the conservative The Republicans party he has represented for 10 years, is a high-profile test case. He is one of three conservatives serving in the new government of Macron – who was a minister in a Socialist government until he quit last year to launch his presidential bid.
“I will vote for Mr Le Maire because he is working with Emmanuel Macron and I think that’s a good thing,” said Bibes. “We need to change politics and I think he will do that.”
Voters are choosing 577 members of parliament and a second round will take place on June 18.
At a rally for Le Maire in a packed hall in the village of Angerville-la-Campagne, part of his Normandy constituency, conservative and centrist voters rubbed shoulders with left-wingers and voters with no party affiliation.
“I’ve had my doubts,” said Jean-Pascal Levee, a right-winger who voted for failed conservative candidate Francois Fillon for the presidency in April.
“But today it’s very clear: we have to give the government a chance so that they can work for France.”
An IFOP poll on May 28 forecast that Le Maire would attract 48 percent of the vote in the first round of the parliamentary election on June 11, just two points shy of the score required for a first-round victory.
That chimes with wider surveys that see Macron’s Republic On the Move (LREM) party securing a solid majority in the lower house of parliament, overturning the Socialist majority in place since 2012.
In other telling examples of shifting affiliations, Alain Juppe, a popular former conservative prime minister, gave his support to a former aide who is an LREM candidate in the wider Paris region, while Prime Minister Edouard Philippe backed Thierry Solere, a candidate for The Republicans.
Philippe himself, like Le Maire, comes from The Republicans (LR) party, and there are LR candidates who openly say they will back Macron’s reforms.
That spells trouble for LR, which polls second but far behind Macron’s party, and is very much divided on how its attitude towards the new president should be.
“Our activists don’t know which way to turn anymore because of an unprecedented ambiguity,” said Coumba Dioukhane, the candidate running for LR against Le Maire in the Normandy constituency.
Le Maire, who will have to give up his ministerial portfolio if he loses this election, is accused of betrayal by many in his former party.
He told the rally that Philippe, budget minister Gerald Darmanin and himself “chose their country over their party.”
Not all voters buy that.
In the working class district of La Madeleine, 41-year old entrepreneur Isa Gorgulu said he would give his vote to Le Maire because he thought there was hope for change with Macron, though he accused him of playing politics by joining the new president.
“They are thinking about their own interest, their own future,” he said.
(Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Andrew Callus and Gareth Jones)