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A left-wing surge in the French legislative race threatens to hobble Emmanuel Macron

The president’s party won 25.75 per cent of the vote, marginally ahead of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s 25.66 per cent.

By Ido Vock

As pre-election polling suggested, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s left-wing alliance, the New Popular, Ecological and Social Union (Nupes) has succeeded in challenging Emmanuel Macron’s Ensemble (Together) grouping in yesterday’s first round of the French legislative elections. Ensemble won 25.75 per cent of the vote, marginally ahead of the Nupes’ 25.66 per cent. The vast majority of races will head to run-offs next Sunday to determine the composition of the new parliament.

Yesterday’s vote is the first time the newly elected president’s party has not topped the poll since the parliamentary and presidential elections were synchronised to be held the same year. The Nupes’s message – declared even before the second round of the presidential election in April – of making Mélenchon prime minister and hobbling Macron’s ability to govern successfully galvanised the left-wing electorate.​​​​

The Nupes is not likely to win a majority, but if it performs towards the upper end of expectations it could deny Macron a parliamentary majority. An Ipsos projection has Ensemble winning 255-295 seats, at the lower end well below a majority of 289. The Nupes will win 150-190 seats, the Republicans 50-80 and the National Rally 20-45 seats, the projection estimates.

If Macron’s party fails to gain a majority, the president would be required to agree a coalition or ad hoc deals with smaller parties – most likely on the centre-right – to pass legislation. Ironically, that could have the effect of pushing Macron right instead of left.

On the far-right, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally is likely to win enough seats to form a parliamentary group requiring 15 or more deputies. It will remain a marginal force in parliament, however, far outnumbered by even the centre-right Republicans, whose candidate won less than 5 per cent in the presidential election – less than a quarter of Le Pen’s first round score.

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Éric Zemmour’s Reconquest party has largely failed to make an impact. The polemicist himself – who was at one point polling well enough to qualify for the run-off of the presidential election – failed to make it to the second round in his own constituency near Saint-Tropez, losing out to the Ensemble and National Rally candidates.

The question facing the Nupes is now how well it can weather the anti-Mélenchon front the president’s allies will attempt to shore up ahead of this week’s second round. As Le Monde notes, the Nupes do not have a large number of voters to fall back on in the second round: that is the price of unity in the first. Macron, by contrast, can expect large numbers of centre-right voters spooked by Mélenchon to back his candidates to keep the left out.

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