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Rookie French lawmaker reaches out from fortune-teller's van
July 3, 2017 / 7:09 AM / 5 months ago

Rookie French lawmaker reaches out from fortune-teller's van

CHARTRES, France (Reuters) - New French lawmaker Guillaume Kasbarian dreams of crisscrossing his constituency once a week to meet voters in a red and green fortune-teller’s caravan that is for sale in a local garage.

French newly-elected lawmaker Guillaume Kasbarian, of "La Republique en Marche" (Republic on the Move or LREM) political party, holds his resignation letter as he is surrounded by his collegues during his farewell party at his consultancy job offices in Paris, France, June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

The 30-year old business consultant is one of an army novices whose election to parliament last month for President Emmanuel Macron’s new Republic on the Move party completed a seismic shift in France’s political landscape.

Kasbarian had never been involved in politics before joining the independent centrist party when it was set up a year ago.

Now he wants to put the spark back into politics in his Eure-et-Loir constituency south west of Paris to reengage disillusioned voters who stayed away from the ballot box in record numbers.

“Politics has become boring as hell, we need to make it fun again and bring it to people where they live,” he said in the garage where he is discussing how to customise the 1950s wooden caravan for its new role.

Some 415 of the 577 lawmakers are newcomers, elected to a younger, more diverse parliament that began sitting on June 27.

A majority are from Macron’s party, mocked by rivals as inexperienced yes-men to the 39-year-old whose victory in May shook up French politics. Many say they want to do things differently.

“Of course if we don’t deliver concrete results that’s all pointless, but it’s important to get the fun element back in,” said Kasbarian, one of Macron’s 308 lawmakers.

Townhall meetings were not enough to engage voters, he said as spent a day touring his constituency to meet local residents including firemen wanting to discuss work hours and farmers pushing for a change in pesticide laws.

“JUPITERIAN PRESIDENT”

French lawmakers often spend at least three days a week in parliament in Paris debating and voting on laws, networking, and pushing for things such as high-speed trains for their region.

The rest of the time is spent working in constituencies on anything from listening to views on how laws should be crafted or cutting ribbons at local fairs.

Veterans say newbies will soon see their ambitions crushed by the complexity of the lawmaking and the overarching control the government has on parliament.

The discipline required by each political group also leaves little room for individual lawmakers to manoeuvre, especially if they have not built up political weight over the years.

“All governments want a parliament that just obeys orders, ministers will call you and say ‘Come on, you can’t do that, it will make the government look bad,” said Dominique Raimbourg, a Socialist lawmaker in 2007-2017 who lost his seat last month.

He said the Socialist government pressured him when he pushed for amendments to draft criminal laws and often used tactics to get its way including sending bills at the last minute, vetoing amendments and shuffling the agenda around.

“It will be all the more difficult with a Jupiterian, or rather Bonapartist, president,” Raimbourg said.

Critics have compared Macron to the early 19th century autocratic French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte while Macron himself has called his vision of leadership “Jupiterian” after the Roman god of gods who spoke rarely except to issue orders.

“NOT ROBOTS”

Guillaume Kasbarian, newly elected member of parliament of "La Republique en Marche" (Republic on the Move or LREM) political party, poses upon his first visit to the French National Assembly in Paris, France, June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Kasbarian said he was well aware of the difficulties ahead, would be loyal to Macron and will make his voice heard.

“Most people voted for us to give Emmanuel Macron a majority in parliament... we need to remember this,” he said, driving in a car with a floor and seats still covered in campaign leaflets.

“We’ll have disagreements, we’re not robots, but we’ll discuss them among ourselves... rather than running to the press to complain.”

Macron and his team want to avoid the kind of rebellion faced by previous president Francois Hollande from some Socialist party lawmakers. They are exerting tight control over lawmakers, who had to sign a “contract with the nation” that lays out his policy plans, and attend a two-day training seminar the weekend after their election.

They also want to avoid the pitfalls of Hollande’s many on and off-the-record chats with journalists and are keeping the press at arms’ length.

The first test will come quickly for Kasbarian, the son of two civil servants of Armenian descent. He wants to push for amendments to a draft bill on political transparency being discussed in parliament this month that would forbid lawmakers from holding consultancy jobs to avoid conflicts of interest.

Slideshow (14 Images)

Kasbarian said at a consultancy farewell party that he hoped to bring corporate drive to a parliament which includes fewer career politicians than before and counts 143 business executives and 30 company bosses in its ranks.

“All these new lawmakers who come from the private sector might be a bit naive at first but they will hopefully also be more vigilant,” said Pouria Amirshahi, a former lawmaker elected on a Socialist ticket in 2012, saying not having been involved in politics for decades might make them more free to speak up.

Amirshahi said he had a reality check when he saw “that the executive branch controlled everything.”

Hollande decreed labour legislation spearheaded by his then-economy minister Macron for fear of it being voted down in parliament.

FAST FOOD LIFESTYLE

Kasbarian, who will be a member of parliament’s economic affairs committee, took a pay cut from 6,200 euros ($7,081.02)per month as a consultant to just under 5,500 euros as a lawmaker.

Grabbing a burger during the tour of his constituency, he worries about the impact a politician’s life could have on his waist line.

He is also concerned about the image lawmakers sent to voters in its first days, after fierce late night exchanges among colleagues about who would get the top roles of organising parliament’s work.

“It wasn’t a pretty sight,” Kasbarian said.

Back at the garage, where the caravan will be repainted in blue and grey, 43-year-old garage owner Sylvain Lacroix-Beauchet said he voted both for Macron and Kasbarian.

“But careful, you can’t disappoint us, in a year or two you’ll need to have something to show for it.”

The last time there were as many fresh faces in France’s parliament was in 1958 when wartime hero Charles de Gaulle was president.

It eventually ended badly for many of the newcomers. They voted a no-confidence motion in 1962 and de Gaulle immediately dissolved parliament to call snap elections.

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; editing by Anna Willard

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