Five takeaways from the French election – and what could happen next | France
Emmanuel Macron’s alliance remains the biggest force in the French parliament, but the president – comfortably re-elected eight weeks ago – lost his absolute majority amid a strong electoral performance from a new left-wing coalition a historic far-right push.
Here are five key takeaways from a shock legislative election that is forcing the centrist leader to strike tough deals with other parties to implement promised reforms – and which could further plunge France into political chaos.
1. A triumph for the far right
Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN), which regularly wins 20% or more in national elections, had only eight of the 577 deputies in the last legislature. In the new assembly, it will be 89, an elevenfold increase and a historic total (its previous record was 35 in 1986, under a short period of proportional representation).
The unprecedented score, double what polls predicted, qualifies the far-right party as a political group under assembly rules, giving it significant voice and representation in parliamentary committees, and will allow it pay off debts and build a campaign budget. for the next elections.
The RN has also crossed the thresholds required to be able to launch parliamentary inquiries and challenge bills in the constitutional court. According to many commentators, his score represents a seismic breakthrough.
2. A dark night for Macron
The president’s coalition, Together (Together), finished with 245 MPs, by far the largest bloc in parliament but well below the 289 seats needed for a majority and more than 100 less than the previous parliament.
There were some bright spots, such as the first election of Europe Minister Clément Beaune, but Macron also lost a series of heavyweights. Analysts say the 44-year-old president must shoulder much of the blame, accusing him of throwing away a solid parliamentary lead projected after his re-election in April with a near-nonexistent campaign in which he appeared to be leaning on the tradition of French. voters generally giving a majority to newly elected presidents.
Rapidly rising inflation and cost-of-living concerns have also reignited popular resentment of Macron and his style, widely seen as arrogant, top-down and “president of the rich”. Macron, accustomed to pushing his pro-business reforms through parliament regardless of opposition views, will have to learn the art of building political consensus; he faces weeks of negotiations and may still fail to form a functional majority.
3. The tactics of the left paid off, but not completely
The socialist and communist parties, the radical left La France insoumise (LFI) and the Greens (EELV) did not obtain more cumulative votes than in the previous election in 2017, but their decision to jointly present a candidate in each constituency under a new alliance of far-left veteran Jean-Luc Mélenchon paid off, allowing them to win 131 deputies, more than double their previous total (they can also count on the support of some of the 22 deputies from non-allied left parties).
The performance makes Nupes, as the alliance is known, the biggest opposition force in parliament. Most observers, however, believe that with major differences on everything from the EU to nuclear power and the police, the Nupes will struggle to stay united for long if Macron tries to peel off more moderate MPs: Less than 24 hours after the polls closed, he was already showing signs of strain. Mélenchon is also far from achieving his goal of a left-wing parliamentary majority (with himself as prime minister) and it is unclear to what extent his disruptive LFI, as a major force in the alliance, will be able to dictate to its less radical allies.
4. Low turnout and a “republican front” hit by a bitterly divided electorate
Abstention played a crucial role. As in the first round, more than half of eligible voters stayed away from the polls, with a turnout of just 46%. The young and less well-off abstained massively: only 29% of 18-24 year olds and 36% of people living in households earning less than €1,200 per month voted, compared to 66% of over 70s and 51% of those with higher incomes. France’s so-called Republican Front, in which moderate voters traditionally band together to ward off extremes, has also failed at the local level.
Divided into three antagonistic blocs (far right, left/far left and center), many voters – faced with a two-horse second round without their preferred candidate – simply abstained. This explains much of the push from the far right: according to polling institute Ipsos, the mutual hatred of voters on the left and center is such that 72% of Macron’s supporters abstained or canceled their vote instead than to vote for the Nupes candidates in the second round against the National. Rally, while a similar percentage of Nupes voters refused to vote for the candidates for Ensemble going head-to-head with the far-right party.
5. A more representative – but potentially paralyzed – parliament
For some, the benefits of Sunday’s results are that power in France will now necessarily shift from the president to parliament; that the composition of the assembly more accurately reflects the political views of the country’s electorate; and that the French deputies will be obliged to reach a consensus in the national interest.
Unlike the Scandinavian countries, Germany or the Netherlands, however, France’s modern National Assembly has no tradition of compromise, and many other commentators fear a fatally suspended parliament, paralysis and crisis. politics at a time of great European – and global – challenges.
… Or now? The three main options ahead
To form a majority, Macron could seal a pact with the center-right Les Républicains (LR) party, which has 64 MPs but is split between a moderate pro-European wing and a more nationalist right-wing faction. However, LR’s senior leaders have so far ruled out a formal coalition.
The party could still break up, with some MPs rallying to Macron. Alternatively, the president can seek support from the right and/or left on a bill-by-bill basis (as Socialist President Francois Mitterrand once did, with some legislative success). LR said he would be open to that; Nupes was less communicative.
But if the parties in the Assembly fail to work together constructively (LFI and the National Rally, in particular, could prove particularly obstructive), deadlock will ensue and a snap election, which Macron can call at any time, might turn out to be the only way out. – possibly within a few months.