‘Democratic shock’: France’s Macron loses parliamentary majority

French President Emmanuel Macron has lost control of the National Assembly in legislative elections after major gains by a newly formed left-wing alliance and record wins by the far-right.

The result, announced in the early hours of Monday, threw French politics into turmoil, raising the prospect of a paralysed legislature unless Macron is able to negotiate alliances with other parties.

Macron, 44, now also risks being distracted by domestic problems as he seeks to play a prominent role in putting an end to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and as a key statesman in the European Union.

The president’s centrist Ensemble coalition will still be the biggest party in the next National Assembly. But with 245 seats, according to full interior ministry results, it is well short of the 289 seats needed for a majority in the 577-member chamber.

A broad left-wing alliance, NUPES, united behind hard-left veteran Jean-Luc Melenchon, was set to be the biggest opposition group, while far-right leader Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party made huge gains and will send 89 legislators to the new parliament.

“This situation constitutes a risk for our country, given the challenges that we have to confront,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said in a televised statement.

“We will work from tomorrow to build a working majority,” she said.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire called the outcome a “democratic shock” and also promised to reach out to all pro-Europeans to help govern the country.

The result severely tarnished Macron’s April presidential election victory when he defeated the far-right to be the first French president to win a second term in over two decades.

“It’s a turning point for his image of invincibility,” said Bruno Cautres, a researcher at the Centre for Political Research of Sciences Po.

‘Unexpected situation’

The result from Sunday’s second round poll needed to be decisive for Macron’s second-term agenda, with the  president needing a majority to be able to deliver on promised tax cuts, welfare reform and raising the retirement age.

These parliamentary elections have largely been defined by voter apathy – with more than half the electorate staying home for the first round, and broadsides between candidates further turning people away.

There is no set script in France for how things will now unfold. The last time a newly elected president failed to get an outright majority in parliamentary elections was in 1988.

Macron could eventually call a snap election if legislative gridlock ensues.

Le Monde daily headlined on its website: “Macron faces the risk of political paralysis,” while the Le Figaro daily said the results raised the spectre of a “stillborn new mandate”.

Melenchon of the NUPES alliance called the outcome “totally unexpected”.

“The rout of the presidential party is complete and no clear majority is in sight,” he told cheering supporters.

“France has spoken and, it must be said, with an insufficient voice because the level of abstention is still much too high, which means that a large part of France does not know where to turn.”

Melenchon’s Nupes alliance campaigned on freezing the prices of essential goods, lowering the retirement age, capping inheritance, and banning companies that pay dividends from firing workers. Melenchon also called for disobedience towards the European Union.

Le Pen, whose party won its biggest-ever representation in the assembly, said she will seek to unite all “patriots on both the right and the left wing”.

“The Macron adventure has reached its end,” she said. “We will incarnate a strong opposition.”

Jordan Bardella, interim head of the National Rally, called the result “a big breakthrough”.

“It’s Emmanuel Macron’s own arrogance, his own contempt for the French people and his own impotence on security and purchasing power that has made him a minority president,” he said.

Turnout was at 38.11 percent at 15:00 GMT, the interior ministry said on Sunday. The figure was down on the 39.42 percent recorded in the first round on June 12 at the same stage, although up on the 35.33 percent recorded in 2017.

Audrey Paillet, 19, who cast her ballot in Boussy-Saint-Antoine in southeastern Paris, was saddened that so few people turned out.

“Some people have fought to vote. It is too bad that most of the young people don’t do that,” she said.

Government spokesperson Olivia Grégoire said on France 2 television that “we’ve known better evenings”.

“This is a disappointing top position but still a top position,” she said. “We are holding out a helping hand to all those who are OK to make the country move forward.”

‘Less presidential’

Some voters argued against choosing candidates on the political extremes who have been gaining popularity.

Others said the French system, which grants broad power to the president, should give more voice to the multi-faceted parliament and function with more checks on the presidential Elysee Palace and its occupant.

“I’m not afraid to have a National Assembly that’s more split up among different parties. I’m hoping for a regime that’s more parliamentarian and less presidential, like you can have in other countries,” said Simon Nouis, an engineer voting in southern Paris.

Macron’s failure to get a majority could have ramifications across Europe. Analysts predict the French leader will have to spend the rest of his term focusing more on his domestic agenda rather than his foreign policy. It could spell the end of President Macron the continental statesman.

“I fear we’ll be more in an Italian-style political situation where it will be hard to govern than in a German situation with its consensus-building,” said Christopher Dembik, an analyst at SaxoBank.

“It’s not necessarily a tragedy, in my view. It may be an opportunity to reinvigorate French democracy and return to the real meaning of parliament.”

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