Macron candidates on a march to rout France's old guard

PARIS: "Hello. I'm Emmanuel Macron's candidate for the parliamentary election," lawyer Laetitia Avia, one of around 200 political rookies running on the president's slate, says as she sweeps through a Paris market handing out leaflets promising "democratic renewal".

Most of those shopping for cheese and fruit have never heard of Avia, who rose from humble beginnings in a family of Togolese immigrants to found her own legal practice and teach law at a top Paris university.

Dressed casually in a skirt, sweater and trainers, the 31-year-old plays the Macron card, telling voters to back what she terms his "reasonably revolutionary" agenda.

"Our programme is rational and balanced. We're not playing Father Christmas," promising gifts to everyone, she told AFP.

'Hope in the air'

Behind Macron's stunning rise to president was a citizens' army of business people, activists, lawyers, teachers and others who campaigned tirelessly for him in towns and villages across the country.

Avia was the chief campaigner of his Republique en Marche (Republic on the Move, REM) party in the southeastern Paris suburbs and one of his first 14 picks of parliamentary candidates.

With only five weeks between the presidential vote and Sunday's first round of voting for the 577-seat National Assembly, she has had little time to convince voters of her own merits.

But the Macron brand is powerful.

Jacques Mobilion, a 68-year-old pensioner who was shopping at the market, said he felt "a little bit of hope in the air" since France's youngest ever president took office on a promise of an "extraordinary renaissance".

"We have to give him a majority," the former aerospace worker said.

Two months ago Macron's rivals for president had used the parliamentary vote as a stick to beat him, warning he could never win a majority with a slate of newcomers.

But his strong debut has fuelled the desire of many to rout the old guard.

Polls now show his merry band of neophytes — who include a retired female bullfighter and a fighter pilot — storming the parliament, tossing aside many career politicians associated with decades of stasis.

In Paris, Avia aims to unseat a Socialist who has represented the 12th and 20th districts for the past decade.

"I'm not looking left or right. I'm looking straight ahead," she declared, revealing a politician's knack for a soundbite.

Enthusiasm vs experience

Around 370km south of Paris in the rural Creuse region, a round-faced dairy farmer is also making his debut in the sometimes mud-slinging world of politics.

Jean-Baptiste Moreau had never been a member of a political party, much less run for office before Macron burst onto the scene, promising to consign France's entrenched left-right divide to the history books.

"I never wanted to get behind a politician or party before because I found it ridiculous to just oppose other parties without first examining their proposals," said 40-year-old Moreau, whose main adversary is also a Socialist — one who has held the Creuse for 20 years.

Apart from Macron's pledge to bring moderates of all stripes under his sprawling tent, Moreau was also won over by the former economy minister's bottom-up approach to policy-making.

"They (REM) listened to people and fed their expectations back up the chain instead of 20 people getting together in Paris to hatch a programme," he said.

Attacks jolt

The collapse of the Socialist Party and infighting in the right-wing Republicans party and far-right National Front have cleared a path for Macron to complete his centrist revolution.

But in some bastions of the right his proteges face a tough fight.

"Mine is not an easy constituency," says Claire Tassadit Houd, a high-powered human resources manager trying to oust a Republicans lawmaker in her hometown of Dreux, an hour west of Paris.

The elegant 52-year-old joined Macron after losing her sister in the November 2015 jihadist attacks in Paris.

"The time had come to join in the public debate about how to end this kind of terrorism," said Tassadit Houd, whose parents immigrated from Algeria in the 1960s.

In Macron she sees a new kind of politician, "who does not reduce people to their origins, religion or supposed social caste".

"I see it every day. People are glad to have him as president," she said proudly.

Analysts warn that an army of newly-minted Macron MPs, who owe him their seat, could make for a very submissive parliament.

"The newcomers will owe him not only their victory but their very political existence," Jerome Sainte-Marie, a political analyst and pollster, told AFP.

Tassadit Houd, Avia and Moreau do little to hide their devotion to their leader.

"I have no ego," said Moreau. "I see myself merely as being on a mission to implement Emmanuel Macron's programme." — AFP