En Marche has many colourful characters
A sole French parliamentarian, Buon Tan, voted recently against a resolution condemning China’s repression of its Ouigour minority as “genocide”.
Was he a Communist with a Capital C? No. The pro-Beijing ballot was cast by a member of the ruling party, President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM).
Until recently, the Cambodian-born Buon Tan was known mostly as the richest and least active of the 577 members of the Assemblée Nationale. Now, the newspaper Le Monde has published an investigation linking Mr Tan with the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. It reports that Macron’s party, then only-one-year old, was warned against Mr Tan by the French security services in 2017. LREM nonetheless endorsed him as its candidate in the eastern part of the Paris Left Bank, an area with a large Asian population.
The piece goes on to quote a French intelligence source, who says that they regard Mr Tan as “under Chinese influence” but no particular threat. “We know where he’s coming from,” the source said. I am told, all the same, that it is “highly unlikely” that Mr Tan will retain LREM support in the parliamentary elections in June, two months after the presidential elections.
Is Buon Tan evidence that the French political establishment is deeply penetrated by Beijing, as some suggest? Not really. He is further proof that Macron’s centrist LREM was lightly penetrated by odd-balls when it scrambled to find parliamentary candidates five years ago.
Many of the 2017 influx of mostly inexperienced LREM deputies have proved hard-working, talented and reliable. Others less so.
Take, for example, Cédric Villiani, 48, a brilliant mathematician, who dresses like a 19th century poet and resembles a kind of French Dr Who. As a past winner of the prestigious Fields Medal, he was regarded as a great capture by the LREM. He was ejected from the parliamentary party in 2020 after refusing to drop his own maverick campaign to be mayor of Paris.
Or take Martine Wonner, 57, a psychiatrist who was elected LREM member for Bas-Rhin in Alsace. She was removed from Macron’s party in 2020 after taking part in a TV documentary called Hold Up! which alleged that the Covid pandemic was a conspiracy by the “global elites” to enrich “Big Pharma” and oppress the people.
There is also Joaquim Son Forget, 38, a former Socialist politician who was elected in 2017 to represent French citizens living in Switzerland.
He resigned from the LREM parliamentary party in 2018 after sending a blizzard of odd tweets, including one alleging that President Donald Trump was “senile” and “incontinent”. He also sent hundreds of tweets in one night complaining about the allegedly excessive use of make-up by a Right-wing female senator.
Son Forget, who was adopted from Korea as a child, has recently thrown in his lot with Eric Zemmour’s far-Right, anti-immigration party, Reconquete! (Reconquest).
Much greater care is, I’m told by sources, being taken with endorsement of LREM candidates for the June elections. This is proving to be a fiendishly difficult exercise. The number of “safe” Macronist seats in June is limited. Although the current President is the overwhelming favourite to win the presidential poll on 10 and 24 April, the meltdown of the once-dominant centre-Right and centre-Left political families could make the legislative election into a giant lottery.