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Emmanuel Macron falls to earth

For the first time in 20 years, a French president will not have a parliamentary majority.

By Ido Vock

BERLIN – Emmanuel Macron is facing political paralysis after losing his majority in parliament, just months after his re-election as president of France. The full results of the second round of the French legislative elections are, according to a Le Monde analysis

Ensemble (centre): 246 seats
New Popular, Ecological and Social Union (left): 142 seats
National Rally (far-right): 89 seats
The Republicans (centre-right): 64 seats
Various left: 13 seats
Various right: 9 seats

With 246 seats, Macron’s Ensemble alliance is 43 seats off a majority of 289, below even the most pessimistic pre-election projections. The president is facing a paralysed National Assembly, with no clear majority – of any political stripe – apparent.

The Nupes, an alliance of left-wing parties led by the firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon, succeeded in roughly doubling the left’s representation in parliament but it is the wholly unexpected far-right surge that is the biggest story of the night. The National Rally (RN) delegation of 89 MPs will be three times greater than its previous best representation in parliament, when a short-lived switch to a proportional electoral system saw more than 30 representatives of the then-National Front returned in 1986. 

“The people have spoken,” said Marine Le Pen, the RN leader. “They surmounted the obstacle of a particularly unfair and unsuited electoral system to return a very powerful group of RN deputies to parliament.” The previous legislature had just 8 RN MPs.
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The result is a stunning reversal of fortunes for Le Pen. Her campaign for the legislative elections had been overshadowed by the Nupes agreement and speculation over the always far-fetched prospect of Mélenchon as prime minister. She has now put her party on a much sounder financial footing because of public subsidies to political parties based on their electoral performance. Any doubts over her leadership of the far right after her third presidential defeat in a row just months ago have disappeared.

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The RN is – for the moment – nominally the largest opposition faction in parliament, as the constituent parties of the Nupes had said that they would sit as separate parties once elected. The largest party within the Nupes, France Unbowed, has only 75 MPs. 

A large part of the responsibility for that historic far-right surge lies with the president’s camp’s strategy of at least initially presenting “both extremes” – the Nupes and RN – as equally dangerous. Dozens of defeated Ensemble candidates refused to call for a vote for the Nupes when candidates of the left faced the RN in run-off rounds. The prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, called for “ceding nothing to the extremes – neither on one side nor the other” on the evening of the first round, although she later offered her support to some Nupes candidates.

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Accordingly, in the around 60 second rounds which saw the Nupes and RN face off, Brice Teinturier of the Ipsos polling institute estimated that 72 per cent of Ensemble voters abstained from voting yesterday. The Nupes lost in 33 of these run-offs.

The far-right surged because voters for the other two main blocs in French politics – Macron’s centre and Mélenchon’s left – so detest each other that they refuse to vote tactically to keep out the RN. The weakening of the anti-RN “republican front” is being welcomed by senior RN figures, who view it as a further step on the normalisation of the party. Louis Aliot, an ally of Le Pen, said, “The glass ceiling has been shattered. We are bedding in, entering normality.”

If the RN’s status as the largest opposition party is confirmed, the party could gain certain privileges, including the presidency of parliament’s powerful finance committee, which for around 15 years has been held by the largest opposition group.

Several scenarios are now possible. Macron may seek a formal governing pact with the Republicans, although several figures in the party have expressed opposition. He could also form a minority government, although the executive’s most powerful weapon, article 49-3 of the French Constitution, used by previous minority governments to pass laws without a vote, has been constrained since a 2008 constitutional reform.

Another option is already being floated by allies of the president: dissolving parliament in a year’s time and holding fresh elections. For now, “Jupiter” appears more of an Icarus.