France’s voters are famous for choosing kings to overthrow them. On Sunday they accomplished the feat of pulling the throne from under the new king’s butt. Because in the parliamentary elections in France, President Emmanuel Macron suffered a heavy defeat. His coalition of centre-right parties failed to secure an absolute majority. Macron’s party alliance “Ensemble” (Together) only got 224 of the 577 seats in the French National Assembly according to the first projections on Sunday evening. 289 would have been necessary for an absolute majority.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s left-wing alliance, the “New Ecological and Social People’s Union” (Nupes for short), got 149 seats and is thus the strongest opposition force, but has achieved less than hoped. The left-wing populist Mélenchon campaigned with the slogan that the parliamentary elections were the third round of the presidential election and that he was the next head of government. His party of “Indomitable France” (LFI) is expected to have 86 seats. In the legislative period that was coming to an end, there were only 17.
Among many losers, Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN) is the real winner of this election. With 89 seats, according to the first projections of the evening of the election, she has increased the number of her MPs tenfold. In the last legislative period, it had only eight MPs and therefore had no parliamentary group of its own. It is particularly noteworthy that, in addition to the traditional regions in the north and south of France, in which her party is traditionally anchored, she has also gained territories in the west of the country.
For the ruling party, the result is so painful in detail that the impression is given that “Macronism”, which nobody has been able to properly define, is already ripe for the dustbin of history after five years. The list of those voted out reads like a vote of no confidence in the founding members of Macron’s En Marche movement.
Historical figures from his party, which is about to change its name to Renaissance for a second time, have been punished. Parliament Speaker Richard Ferrand, number four in the state, a loyal supporter from the start, was unable to assert himself against the Nupes candidate. Group leader of “La République en Marche” (LREM) Christoph Castaner is also being thrown out of parliament and has to give up his ministerial arm. Europe Minister Clément Beaune also had to tremble for his office on Sunday evening, but narrowly won the duel.
The French majority electoral system, praised for at least producing clear conditions and stable governments, is leading to multiple blockades in France: A two-camp system has become a three-thirds parliament, whose factions are hardly able to form coalitions with each other.
The Conservatives are performing better than expected in this election with 78 seats after the disastrous result of their presidential candidate Valérie Pécresse and will therefore play the role of kingmaker. Because Macron, who has just gone down in history with his re-election, now has to laboriously seek his majorities – almost like the head of a minority government. With the relative majority that Macron’s party alliance “Ensemble” has won, he must persuade the conservatives to form a coalition.
However, LR is split into a part that is “compatible” with Macron and a strong group of hardliners. It cannot be ruled out that the conservatives will only form a coalition if they can nominate the head of government. In any case, Macron’s center alliance moves further to the right. As the strongest opposition force, Nupes in turn has the opportunity to obstruct and deliberately delay parliamentary work.
The result of the election looks like a diploma for the Fifth Republic, whose set of rules can no longer serve the political needs of a changed society. Underrepresented for decades, the extremists on both the left and the right now seem overly pompous. Together they make up almost a third of all MPs. Political observers predict a chaotic legislature.
Less than half of those eligible to vote cast a vote on Sunday. Voter turnout was 46 percent. One in three of the youngest voters (18 to 24 years old) stayed away from the ballot box. The political scientist and bestselling author Jérôme Fourquet speaks of a “republican crisis of faith”.