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Emmanuel Macron and France: A collective quandary

The elections were marked by voter apathy, so much so that the second round witnessed one of the lowest ever turnouts of a French legislative election at just 46.2%.

emmanuel macron pic sd
Now, for Macron, the election results have proved to be disappointing, to say the least. (Photo source: Reuters)

By Abhishek Khajuria

So, the results of the elections in France are out now. Over the course of the past 9 days, the French voted in a two-round Parliamentary election to decide the 577 members of the 16th National Assembly of the country. The elections were marked by voter apathy, so much so that the second round witnessed one of the lowest ever turnouts of a French legislative election at just 46.2%. Factors like disenchantment with the political parties and an unusual heatwave have been cited as keeping the voters away from the polling booths.

However, the concerns over the low turnout have paled in comparison to the concerns over the results, which started coming out on Sunday night. President Emmanuel Macron and his coalition called Ensemble! led by his party La République En Marche! (LREM) have lost their majority in the National Assembly with 245 seats, a far cry from Macron’s previous tally of 347 in the 15th National Assembly and well short of the 289 seats required for an absolute majority, the first time it has happened for a newly-elected President in 2 decades. The leftist coalition NUPES led by the far-left politician Jean-Luc Melenchon has come second with 131 seats. However,the wrangling has already begun in the bloc over whether its constituents would sit as one parliamentary group or not. Third is Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) with 89 seats, while the fourth is the centre-right bloc with 61 seats led by The Republicans (LR).

These numbers need to be dissected to understand why as mentioned above, there is concern over the results. Before we move to Macron and Ensemble!, what needs to be noted is that this election will be remembered for the historic gains the left and the far-right have made. Now, for Macron, the election results have proved to be disappointing, to say the least. It will now be more difficult for him to carry out the reforms he had set out for his second term, which include raising the retirement age, tax cuts and more European integration, among others. He now ventures into unknown terrain. He will now either have to build a coalition or run a minority government and strike a deal with the opposition on a case-by-case basis. The latter, in particular, puts the newly appointed (and left-leaning) Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne in a precarious position. The most likely supporters of Ensemble! in the new Assembly are predicted to be from the centre-right,and it wouldn’t be the stuff of dreams if we assume them demanding a new Prime Minister. As per media reports, Bruno Le Maire, the finance minister, termed the results a “democratic shock” that “would block our capacity to reform and protect the French”. There are bound to be more deadlocks in the new Parliament. Some assertions have already been made that the situation generated by the results would lead Macron to dissolve the Parliament before its term of expiry. Another impact the result could have in the immediate term is Macron’s ability to play an impactful role in the Ukraine crisis. His attention would be diverted from this vital issue due to the domestic scenario engendered by the election results.

For the leftist NUPES, 131 seats have been a remarkable performance. Melenchon, after the results, said: “The rout of the presidential party is complete, and there is no clear majority in sight”. It is going to go on a collision course (decreasing retirement age and bringing wealth taxes were its poll planks) with the presidential party and its would-be partners in the Parliament, even as Melenchon’s dream of becoming Prime Minister looks to have ended as of now. However, it remains to be seen if the NUPES manages to sit as one parliamentary group. Also, on the same side of the spectrum, the daily Liberation termed the results as “The Slap” for Macron.

The performance of the RN deserves special attention. Its 89 seats are a humongous jump from its paltry tally of 8 in 2017. None of the opinion polls had given the RN a shot at the former figure. 89 seats mean that the far-right has its biggest representation in the National Assembly in post-War France. It will also open up the gates for more funding and more visibility for the RN after it crossed the threshold of 15 for a parliamentary group. This will likely lead to more acceptance for the far-right party in the French polity, which many in the mainstream see as a danger to democracy itself, along with its other problematic positions on the EU and the NATO and Le Pen’s admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

While for the LR, its decline has continued. But the only silver lining in all this doom and gloom for it has been that it has enough numbers to gain the kingmaker role in the new Parliament. It is expected so far to align with Macron’s coalition but on an issue basis rather than entering into an outright coalition agreement.

Reflecting on the election results, Mathieu Berruer, a student of International Relations in the School of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and a left voter, says, “This Assembly will be conflictive as people who believe in the great replacement theory will face people who are in favour of justice and equality. It is also more representative in that there are a good number of far-right MPs apart from other factions, but there is a danger inherent in it as it is considered a threat to democracy”. Further, he is also of the opinion that the contest for the chair of the important finance committee, which by convention goes to the opposition, will be a straight face-off between the NUPES, the largest opposition coalition (if it is able to arrive at a consensus candidate within the bloc) and the RN, the largest opposition party. He ends by saying, “I have huge expectations from the left in parliament as well as in the streets”.

In a politically divided and disenchanted country, as France is today, the results portend not a particularly rosy picture in the near to medium term.Governance will be an arduous task without an absolute majority, and President Macron’s ambitious reforms might have to take a backseat; the internal wrangling would also impact France’s role as a foreign policy actor. What happens in the longer term depends on what is the form of the support Macron can garner for a majority which most likely will come from the LR, and what sort of modus vivendi he is able to establish with the opposition to minimise frictions (if he doesn’t take the ultimate step of calling an early election by dissolving the Parliament). France awaits, and so does Europe and the rest of the world.

(Author is a Doctoral Candidate at the Centre for European Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).

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