Conservatives lead in French Senate elections, Greens gain

Conservatives lead in French Senate elections, Greens gain
French President Emmanuel Macron meets staff and parents during a visit to a Mother and Child Protection Centre (PMI) in Longjumeau, a southern suburb of Paris, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. French President wants to expand paternity leave to one month — and require fathers to take time off with their newborns. President Emmanuel Macron earlier announced the plan on Instagram before visiting the child-care facility. (Ludovic Marin/POOL via AP) (Ludovic Marin)

PARIS — (AP) — France's main conservative party looked set to keep control of the Senate and the Greens made new gains in partial elections Sunday that posed a new challenge to President Emmanuel Macron's struggling centrist movement.

Nearly half of the chamber's 348 seats were up for grabs in the vote, an indirect election in which some 90,000 local elected officials like city councilors choose the senators.

As results gradually came in Sunday night, Senate President Gerard Larcher of the Republicans party tweeted that the center-right majority was intact, and that he would run for another term as Senate leader “to restore the confidence that our country so lacks.” His coalition had 143 seats in the previous chamber.

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Macron’s Republic on the Move party, created just four years ago and with just 23 seats in the outgoing Senate, held on to key seats though the final count was still pending Sunday night. It has lost popularity since the last election in 2017 because of yellow vest protests against policies seen as favoring the rich, party infighting and voter disenchantment with Macron’s leadership, including its management of the coronavirus crisis.

Top officials in the Greens party, which enjoyed a boost in this year’s municipal elections thanks to growing public concern about climate change, said they had won enough seats to form an official voting group in the upper house. The party had just four senators in the outgoing Senate, and said by Sunday evening that it had at least 11, above the 10 needed to form a group.

Marine Le Pen's anti-immigration, far-right National Rally said it held onto its single Senate seat.

Senators serve six-year terms, and elections are held every three years for roughly half of the chamber.

Macron’s party has struggled in recent elections, and the president has not announced whether he will seek a second term in 2022. The virus pandemic and resulting recession, along with years of protests, have jeopardized his grand plans to transform France’s economy to be more globally competitive and to reinvent European unity.

In the last few weeks, France has been struggling with a resurgence of the virus that has already killed over 31,600 of its citizens, one of Europe's highest virus death tolls.

Macron’s party still controls the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, which has the final say in legislation over the Senate. And the Republicans who dominate the Senate generally support Macron’s pro-business economic policies.