French politics is thrown into turmoil after President Emmanuel Macron lost control of the National Assembly in legislative elections in which a newly formed Left-wing alliance made significant gains and the Far-right registered a record victory. The result, announced in the early hours of June 20, clearly indicates there could be a governance paralysis unless Macron finds ways and means to appease rival groups and negotiate alliances with other parties.
The irony for the President’s Centrist Ensemble coalition is that it still continues to be the biggest party with 245 seats, but it is well short of the 289-mark needed for attaining a majority in the 577-member chamber. A broad Left-wing alliance, NUPES, forged by the veteran Left politician Jean-Luc Melenchon, is well set to be the most prominent opposition group with 131 seats. The Far-right leader Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party scored a ten-fold increase bagging a historic 89 seats.
One positive development is that the National Assembly has been catapulted into a position from being a mere sideshow rubber-stamping the Élysée’s decisions to an institution that matters. Because of its earlier position, Macron had grown aloof, hardly caring to reach out to the people and explain his policies. This led to a decline in his popularity during his last term which was reflected in the reduced margin of his victory. The results of the election to the National Assembly augur well for French democracy, though the fractured mandate may cause policy paralysis. It is what France can ill-afford at this juncture when urgent challenges need to be addressed on issues including the cost of living, war in Ukraine and the climate emergency. A bumpy road is ahead for a subdued Macron.
It may also affect Macron’s image as a key pan-European leader as he would have to spend more time on fixing domestic problems since his wings have been clipped by the voters in the National Assembly. He has played a prominent role among European Union leaders in attempts to end the crisis resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. No wonder Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has sought to equate the electoral reverses with a national catastrophe of sorts. At the same time, the ruling coalition has no option but to build a working majority.
The result has taken off the sheen from Macron’s April presidential election victory when he defeated the Far-right to become the first French president to win a second term in more than two decades. It also gives rise to questions over Macron’s ability to deliver on his second-term agenda, including tax cuts, welfare reforms and raising the retirement age. Analysts say the only option for Macron now is to try to form a coalition government. This means he may have to compromise his ambitious agenda. There is no ready-made script in France for how things are going to unfold. The last time a newly elected President failed to get an outright majority in parliamentary elections was in 1988.
The best course left for Macron is either to find allies from the conservatives or the Left or seek issue-based support from disparate groups.