New leader for Macron's party as honeymoon fades

2017-11-19 08:20
Newly elected leader of the Republic on the Move party Christophe Castaner. (Jean-Philippe Ksiazek, AFP)

Newly elected leader of the Republic on the Move party Christophe Castaner. (Jean-Philippe Ksiazek, AFP)

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Lyon - Emmanuel Macron's party named Christophe Castaner as new leader on Saturday as the French president faces the first rebellious grumblings in the 19-month-old movement that swept him to power.

Castaner, a smooth-talking, ultra-loyal government spokesperson, takes the helm of Republic on the Move (LREM) six months after Macron won the presidency in a sensational upset for French politics.

Grassroots members

Macron's handpicked favourite, Castaner is a former Socialist MP who joined the 39-year-old's centrist, pro-European campaign early in his run for presidency.

"It's not a dream, it's not an ambition, it's a chance, an honour, it's a duty," Castaner said, as he promised not to be "the leader of the movement", but an "organiser, a facilitator".

Castaner, 51, was elected unopposed via a show of hands at LREM's party congress in the eastern city of Lyon, to the irritation of some grassroots members of what Macron called a "citizens' movement".

The new party chief - who admitted he had not been "dreaming" of the unpaid job - struck a humble tone as he accepted a three-year term, telling party members: "Your vote gives me no rights, only responsibilities".

After widespread grumbling in private, a small group of 100 followers went public this week with an open resignation letter that claimed the party had no internal democracy and was consumed by political scheming.

The anonymous rebels said in the letter that LREM was guilty of "contempt and arrogance".

Party has stagnated

The complaints are one of a number of challenges faced by Macron, who needs a support base as he battles opponents including trade unionists opposed to his labour reforms and leftists who accuse him of favouring the rich with his tax policies.

Even senior figures admit that, since tasting glory over the summer with a membership that swelled to more than 350 000, the party has stagnated.

LREM will be vital for Macron at the local and regional level in France, where future elections for mayors and councils offer him the chance to push his pro-business agenda to "transform" France.

Read more on:    emmanuel macron  |  france

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