Just before taking off for Romania and Ukraine last week, French President Emmanuel Macron left voters at home with plenty to contemplate in advance of his country’s legislative elections. Mr. Macron pleaded with voters not to add “disorder in France to the disorder in the world” by denying him a majority in the National Assembly.
Instead, voters not only ignored his plea, they also elected a record number of far-right and far-left politicians to the 577-seat assembly in the second round of the legislative vote on Sunday. The result has left Mr. Macron’s domestic agenda in tatters and raised the odds of political paralysis. His second term looks jinxed.
The outcome of the vote should not really surprise anyone who followed France’s April presidential election, which saw Mr. Macron re-elected with 58 per cent of the popular vote against National Rally candidate Marine Le Pen. What on the surface looked like a lopsided victory for Mr. Macron underscored the political divisions that had grown steadily deeper during his first term in office after 2017.
Mr. Macron’s April victory had more to do with a centre-left and centre-right voters holding their noses and marking their ballots for him to block the far-right Ms. Le Pen from winning office. Even so, her share of the popular vote increased eight percentage points from 2017 as hordes of progressive voters stayed home to protest what they saw as a false choice between two bad options.
On Sunday, Ms. Le Pen’s party won 89 seats, a stratospheric rise from eight seats in 2017. Its share of the popular vote more than doubled to 17 per cent. For the National Rally, which has struggled financially in recent years, Sunday’s result means at least €10-million ($13.6-million) in annual state subsidies under public financing laws.
The move by four parties on the French left to set aside their squabbling and run a single slate of candidates paid off big time as their alliance – known as the New Ecological and Social Popular Union, or NUPES – captured 131 seats. That fell well short of the majority that NUPES needed to force Mr. Macron to name far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon as prime minister. But it was enough to all but condemn Mr. Macron’s plan to raise the French retirement age to 65 from 62 and a host of other proposals on the President’s wish list.
The three parties comprising Mr. Macron’s centrist coalition, which ran under the Ensemble (Together) banner, won 245 seats, coming up 44 seats short of a 289-seat majority in the assembly. That compared with the more than 350 seats it won in the previous assembly. Three of Mr. Macron’s cabinet ministers lost their seats, while Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne only narrowly won her own riding.
Ms. Borne, named Prime Minister just last month, now faces the near impossible task of trying to govern without a working majority in the legislature. Former presidents François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac each faced a period of cohabitation, when a party different from their own controlled the National Assembly. But a minority legislature is a whole new can of worms in France.
Ms. Borne could try to strike a deal with a handful of centre-right parties, led by Les Républicains (LR). But the LR leadership has said it is not interested, even though the party officially supports reforming France’s costly public pension system.
For Ms. Borne, who is only the second French woman to be named prime minister after a 10-month stint by Édith Cresson three decades ago, Sunday’s result risks cutting short her own tenure. A serious technocrat named by Mr. Macron to steer his pension reform through the assembly, she has failed to connect with the French public. Her previous stint as transportation minister, when she opened up France’s state-owned railway to private competition, has made her the perfect foil for the fiercely anti-capitalist Mr. Mélenchon. She kept a low profile during the campaign.
Despite Ms. Borne’s troubles, it is not clear Mr. Mélenchon can hold together his own coalition. By Monday morning, the four parties that make up NUPES – Mr. Mélenchon’s France Unbowed, the Socialist Party, the Green Party and the Communist Party – were in disagreement about whether to sit as a single bloc in the assembly. They share little other than their antipathy towards for Mr. Macron.
Under France’s constitution, the next legislative election cannot be held for at least 12 months. But the domestic disorder Mr. Macron feared could leave him with no choice but to pull the plug on this hung parliament as early as possible.
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