A group of about 30 volunteers gathers in a Paris park on a sunny afternoon for lessons in door-to-door campaigning.
They’ll soon be trying out their new skills in the surrounding apartment blocks — plugging two young candidates from President Emmanuel Macron’s new party, Republic On The Move.
Delphine O, 31, is one of the candidates. The half-French, half-Korean diplomat says she never imagined she’d be running for parliament.
“Of course, I’m nervous because I’m very conscious of the responsibility that will be given to me if I win,” O says. “But I’m also very hopeful and excited. The victory of Emmanuel Macron was something that really lifted us all.”
The newly elected French president has taken the country by storm and upended a two-party political system that’s been in place since the founding of France’s Fifth Republic in 1958. But if Macron wants to revolutionize the country as he promised, he must win a majority in the French parliament in legislative elections in the coming week. As of today, his brand new party has no seats at all.
Citizen candidates are on the hustings all across France. Half of the new candidates put forth by Macron’s party are women. Fifty percent are citizens with no prior political experience. The party will have to win 289 out of 577 seats in the National Assembly to hold a majority.
At an outdoor street market in Paris, vendors call out, hawking their wares. Stan Guerini is handing out flyers and shaking hands with shoppers. The entrepreneur, who founded a solar-panel company, is now running for a seat on Macron’s ticket.
“I feel like a citizen going for parliament,” Guerini says. “And this is very important because we want to keep the spirit of a citizen movement. We want to change the country.”
Many of the parliamentary races will be extremely tough, as the newcomers go up against entrenched opponents from the political establishment. But polls show Macron’s party is actually in the lead. Only on rare occasions have French voters not given a legislative majority to the president they’ve just elected. But this time the president is starting from zero.
In another Paris congressional district, a Republic On The Move candidate is holding a campaign event in a bar. English teacher Owen Chiver says he’s unlikely to vote for him, but he’s shown up out of interest. He admits the new president has totally shaken up the system.
“The divide between right and left has just exploded,” Chiver says. “It is no longer valid. And we don’t know what’s going to happen exactly but we’re going to see!”
The candidate in the packed bar in Paris’s 19th arrondissement is Mounir Mahjoubi. Mahjoubi became a kind of star during the presidential campaign, when he lead Macron’s bare-bones digital team and foiled Russian hackers.
He’s now been put in charge of a newly created digital affairs ministry. At 33, the son of Moroccan immigrants (his mother worked as a cleaning lady and his father as a house painter) is the youngest member of Macron’s cabinet.
“When you grow up in a poor family in a rich town, first you feel very grateful to the country and to the city,” Mahjoubi says. “I had the best schools, I had the best universities, I had everything, and I didn’t pay for it because the state was there to help my family.”
Mahjoubi says he has always thought he would be useful to others one day. And he believes there’s no better way than by serving in parliament.
Parisian Annick Garache has come out to support Mahjoubi. She’s wearing a t-shirt with a smiling image of former U.S. President Barack Obama.
Garache says she’s known Mahjoubi his whole life because he’s a friend of her son.
“He is a great person,” she says. “When he was 13, he won a science project award and got 5,000 francs. And with the money, he bought his first computer. All along his studies, he worked. He’s an entrepreneur and a businessman at heart, and he knows how to make things work.”
Garache says President Macron recognized Mahjoubi’s worth.
Mahjoubi says he wants to help Macron build a dynamic economy that will allow strivers with dreams to succeed, but also protect those who need help.
Jean Pierre Numa, 60, is listening. He says Mahjoubi and Macron represent the new face of France.
“They are young, from diverse backgrounds and they symbolize this multi-cultural nation that is part of a globalized world,” he says. “But what binds us all are our common values of liberty, equality, fraternity and secularism.”