The radical left threatens to cripple Emmanuel Macron in the French elections | France
A few weeks after Emmanuel Macron entered the Elysée for a second five-year term, French voters could decide to paralyze their newly reelected leader by forcing him into a political “cohabitation” that would paralyze the country.
The first round of legislative elections opens on Sunday to decide who will fill the 577 seats in the National Assembly.
Most of the political noise and fury in France has centered on the presidential elections in April, but Macron now needs a parliamentary majority to push through his program over the next five years.
Cohabitation – a situation in which the president faces an opposition majority in parliament – would force compromises on legislation and effectively end any attempt to push through his most controversial reforms, including raising the age limit of retirement.
The biggest threat to Macron comes from a coalition of fractured French leftist groups, named Nupes – La Nouvelle Union Populaire, Écologique et Sociale (the New Popular Ecological and Social Union) led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, head of the opposition to NATO, anti-European Union La France Insoumise (LFI – La France insoumise).
Polls suggest that Ensemble, Macron’s centrist coalition, is on a par with Nupes, and while political analysts suggest the radical left alliance is unlikely to win a majority, it could rob Macron of up to 40 seats and lower house control.
In the past, when France elected a president, it logically elected a government that supported it with a working majority. However, Mélenchon, the third man in April’s presidential election, breathed new life into the French left with his coalition of greens, communists and socialists that relies on urban youth; surveys suggest that 44% of 18-24 year olds support Nupes.
Manon Aubry, a member of the European party La France Insoumise, said Mélenchon’s “make me PM” campaign was effective.
“For the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic [since 1958] the elected president is not certain to have an absolute majority. We created a huge interest around Nupes; the campaign revolved around us. We are seen as a bad thing or a good thing, but it was about us,” Aubry told the Observer.
“The panic this has caused, the caricature and slander we have been subjected to, shows the uncertainty and fear on the other side. They are very afraid.
Political scientist Pascal Perrineau, director of political research at SciencesPo, said there had been no “honeymoon period” for Macron after the presidential election in April, and no real parliamentary campaign of his side.
“Apart from Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who made a show of it, no one managed to campaign,” said Perrineau. The Parisian.
Narrowly eliminated from the April 10 presidential election, Mélenchon, 70, admitted defeat and hinted that he was ready to step back and let a new generation take over. “We were so close but… the younger ones will say to me: ‘We still haven’t won, but we weren’t far away, huh? Do better,” he said at the time. Nine days later, Mélenchon was back in a combative mood, describing the legislative vote as a “third round” and asking voters to elect him prime minister.
Mélenchon is not standing for election, and constitutional rules state that it is the prerogative of the president, not parliament or the people, to decide who leads the government, but he could still be named prime minister if Nupes, who has support from left-wing economists, including Thomas Piketty, is overwhelming.
It’s unclear how that would work in practice, as the pair disagree on almost everything. Mélenchon promised to undo Macron’s first-term changes and lower the retirement age to 60, restore wealth taxes and raise pensions and the minimum wage.
Three constitutional law experts writing in a legal magazine last week suggested with admirable understatement that Macron and Mélenchon would act in a “confrontational manner”. “It would certainly be paradoxical to see the people make two opposing political choices two months apart and deprive the new Head of State of the means to govern”, they write, adding: “In these uncertain times of loss of bearings and random electoral mobilization, the hypothesis cannot be ruled out.
“We’ve lived together before and that doesn’t mean chaos,” Aubry said. “The president is responsible for foreign affairs, but with a majority in the National Assembly, we would choose the government and run the country,” Aubry added.
If no party obtains an absolute majority, each proposal for legislative modification submitted to the lower house would require the formation of alliances. Perrineau believes that an absolute majority for Nupes is “completely impossible”. “Mélenchon pretends to believe in it, he only hopes to be the first opposition group. Macron has just been chosen, the French are not strategic enough to deprive him of the possibility of applying his policy,” he told French journalists.
Abstention is another unknown, with polls showing it could reach 54%.
On Thursday, Macron called on voters to give him a “clear and strong majority” and warned the “extremes”, i.e. the Nupes and the far-right National Rally, to seek to “break alliances like NATO… and questioning Europe”. Of Mélenchon, he said last week: “It’s rare to win an election when you’re not even a candidate,” adding: “The president chooses the person he appoints prime minister from among parliament. No political party can impose a name on the president.
Unfortunately, his political canvassers say they have found that voters are “very unmotivated, if not completely lost”.
Any candidate who obtains the absolute majority of the votes and at least a quarter of the registered voters is immediately elected. Otherwise, the candidates who obtained at least 12.5% of the vote will qualify for the second round next Sunday. The first results based on the votes counted in the polling stations considered representative of France will be published on Sunday at 8 p.m. Final results will be announced early Monday morning.
Nupes needs at least 289 seats to secure a parliamentary majority. The last period of “cohabitation” in France dates back to 1997-2002, when centre-right President Jacques Chirac was forced to appoint socialist leader Lionel Jospin as prime minister after losing his parliamentary majority. .
The chances of a majority Nupes are nevertheless long. The latest Ifop-Fiducial poll suggests the alliance will win up to 205 seats. That would be well short of a majority, but would establish it as the main opposition party and eligible for a number of key administrative positions in the chamber. The same poll suggests Macron’s Ensemble will end up with 250 to 290 seats.
Left-wing Nupes groups collectively won about 60 seats in the 2017 elections, compared to about 350 for Macron’s allies. If Macron’s Ensemble fails to secure an absolute majority, it will need the support of the mainstream right-wing Les Républicains or the moderates of the Socialist Party.
Since 2002, when the calendar was changed so that presidential and parliamentary elections took place in the same year, the French have never failed to give their presidents a parliamentary majority. The question is, will it be true this time around?