PARIS – Success in presidential elections in France almost always produces a positive effect for the winning candidate’s party, which, in fact, when elections
parliamentary elections are held a few weeks later, usually secures an absolute majority to govern independently. This did not happen on Sunday, however, for President Macron’s “Together” (“Ensemble”) coalition, whose popularity collapsed under the weight of a rapidly deteriorating economic and social situation, pushing by contrast both the center-left NUPES alliance, led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and Marine Le Pen’s far-right, to unexpected or at least largely satisfactory results.
The last time a newly elected president missed an absolute majority in the vote for the National Assembly immediately following was in 1988. For Macron, already the April presidential election had been anything but triumphant. Despite his reelection, rather than the enthusiasm aroused by the incumbent president, the choice of the lesser evil and the refusal to vote for a candidate linked to neo-fascism had prevailed.
After a couple of months the situation deteriorated further. Being associated with the president of the rich and his pseudo-party caused the defeat of many candidates even influential or with government positions. According to many research institutes, including Ipsos, the unexpectedly high number of seats gained by the former National Front-now “Rassemblement National” (RN)-and the loss of an absolute majority by Macron’s “movement” were due in part to the vote in favor of Le Pen’s party by Mélenchon voters in uninominal constituencies where the runoff pitted RN candidates against “Ensemble” candidates.
In all cases, the political fact of Sunday’s vote is the prevailing uncertainty in a National Assembly with no immediate path to a governing majority. This, moreover, is a scenario that has become commonplace in Western “democracies” and not at all surprising given the competition of the respective political classes in disregarding electoral promises and penalizing the interests of workers and the middle classes in their own countries. The other data confirming this reality is also far from new, that of a very pronounced abstentionism. Valid votes in the second round of Sunday’s legislative elections amounted to just 46 percent of eligible voters.
With 246 seats, “Ensemble” and President Macron are a long way from an absolute majority of 289. At first glance, the French electorate seems split into three blocs, with the other two represented precisely by NUPES (“New Popular Social and Ecological Union”) and the former National Front, which won 142 and 89 seats respectively. In fact, the partial disconnect of female parliamentarians from the recent presidential elections, the low turnout and the dispersion of support indicate a growing frustration with the entire system, which has not only long since failed to offer a credible choice for voters, but is even tending to deteriorate.
It is clear that the events of the last few weeks have accelerated the process of disintegrating the already shaky consensus base that had allowed Macron to be reappointed to the Elysée, albeit with all the reservations described above. Faced with soaring inflation, the consequences produced by EU sanctions-theoretically intended to hit Russia-and the persistent threat to what remains of welfare in France, another segment of the electorate has turned its back on the president-banker, opting for one of the few alternatives available: voting for Mélenchon, for Le Pen or abstentionism.
The fact that “Ensemble” remains the political formation with the most seats in the National Assembly takes nothing away from Macron’s débacle. A more precise idea of the failure of the president and his coalition is given by the results of some individual second-round contests that saw leading candidates emerge defeated. First and foremost were the president of the National Assembly and former secretary of Macron’s party (LREM), Richard Ferrand, and the former interior minister, Christophe Castaner. The two were beaten in Brittany and Provence by NUPES candidates, respectively. Other influential losers include some ministers appointed immediately after the April presidential elections, such as that of Health, Brigitte Bourguignon, and Ecology, Amélie de Montchalin. By contrast, the newly appointed prime minister, Élisabeth Borne, who won by a couple of percentage points over a very young and semi-unknown NUPES candidate, barely managed to avoid defeat.