Macron faced with legislative elections: The French president is not in the clear yet

23 May 2017 – VoxEurop

Emmanuel Macron has reached a milestone after being elected President of France. To effectively govern, however, he needs to obtain a majority in the National Assembly, which presents him with a conundrum in view of the elections on 11 and 18 June.

Some already believe France has converted to ‘Macronism’, which will rule over France for the next five years. Indeed, the French have a unique semi-presidential regime, which confers more power to its president than any other EU head of state or government (in most European countries, the head of state only fulfills a symbolic function, or as a guarantor of popular sovereignty). But France’s system is defined as “semi”-presidential for a reason: Emmanuel Macron won’t be able to govern unless he wins a majority in Parliament after the legislative elections on 11 and 18 June. If he doesn’t, he’ll be confined to foreign policy, and MPs will decide the government’s political orientation.

With a system of proportional representation, no party would have a majority

It is not all that clear that La République En Marche (LREM) will obtain more than half of the seats in the National Assembly, far from it. In fact, if the results were to match those of the presidential elections, and if France had a system of proportional representation (which François Hollande promised in 2012), the distribution of seats would have been as follows:

We can clearly see four large blocks forming. According to the first polls conducted since Macron’s election, LREM would win the parliamentary election. However, this all depends on the President’s capacity to consolidate the party by gathering politicians from both the left and the right, as cracks are already beginning to show. François Bayrou, from the centrist MoDem Party, is the only party leader to ally himself with Macron, but has already accused him of “recycling old Socialist Party members” to run as LREM candidates for the legislative elections, before retracting his critism. Nominating the Republican Edouard Philippe as Prime Minister may raise hopes to overcome the right-left split, but could equally create tension within the new head of state’s movement.

The Republicans (LR) were already ‘robbed’ of the presidency (which seemed destined to François Fillon a few months before the elections) as well as the prime minister’s office, but they certainly won’t admit defeat before the legislative elections. The French feel contempt towards François Hollande’s mandate, and it therefore seems logical that they would plump for the right-wing alternative, as they always have when the left fails. It was not because of his program that the French people chose not to put their trust in François Fillon, but because of the numerous scandals surrounding him personally. With the unsuccessful presidential candidate out of the way, the political right wing hopes to gain new momentum. But voters perhaps reject the old model of alternating left and right that has moved French politics for the last 40 years. They are asking for something new.

The far-left’s champion, Jean-Luc Mélenchon (La France Insoumise, LFI), dreams of bringing about this political renewal. Although he has occupied ministerial posts and is no novice to politics, his campaigning methods are revolutionary. Using holograms that allow him to be in several places at once during his gatherings, his educational videogames, his Youtube channel and his online political debating platforms, he embodies today’s modernised politics.

And what of the Front National? Certainly, by entrusting the reins of his government to a Republican politician, Emmanuel Macron is fuelling Marine Le Pen’s mantra of the ‘UMPS’ (=UMP+PS), accusing members of the former UMP (who became the Republicans) of conniving with the PS, of which Macron is supposedly the heir.

Meanwhile, the Socialist Party (PS) sails on without a captain, and might well sink. Benoît Hamont, who was its candidate in the presidential elections, has already announced that he will form his own movement after the legislative elections. Manuel Valls, his opponent in the primary elections , has jumped ship to join the “presidential majority”. We should not bury the party prematurely, however. Its history spans over a hundred years, and François Fillon, who no one would accuse of conspiring with the Socialists, predicted during the campaign that the Socialist Party would achieve a much higher percentage in the legislative elections than LREM, as they have deep-rooted local networks.

Everything will depend on the alliances that form between the two rounds

The election system by majority vote (based on the election of one representative per constituency) is often criticised, but presents an undeniable advantage: establishing clear majority in the National Assembly. But the legislative elections in 2017 are unique: with less than one month to go before the elections, suspense is still high and many scenarios are still conceivable. The cause of this resides in the two-round voting system, and in the uncertainty of how parties will form alliances. A majoritarian voting system with one round of voting (like in the UK) might have resulted in a majority for one of the main presidential candidates and their party. However, the existence of a second round completely changes things, and requires strategies that aim at carefully handling today’s opponents, since they will become tomorrow’s partners. Three questions arise from this:

1.Will the Republican Front prevail?

The Republican Front, a coalition of forces against the Front National, might not be unanimously accepted. Firstly, this kind of alliance has always been challenged by some Republicans. What is more, it remains to be seen if La France Insoumise will rally behind a candidate from the LR or LREM in a constituency to counter the far-right, rather than call for a blank vote. The centre right and followers of Macron may not be so inclined to vote for a candidate from Mélenchon’s movement either.

Furthermore, French electoral law allows for more than two candidates to proceed to the second round, on condition that they get 12.5% of the votes. We might therefore see three-way battles between the far left, the centre, and the far right, or even four way battles between the same parties + the centre-right in some constituencies. Strategic withdrawals in the “democrat camp” (e. g. all except the far right) will reduce the FN’s score in the second round, but quarrelling within this camp will on the contrary play into Marine Le Pen’s hands.

2.Will the PS lean to the right or the left?

Good news for the Socialist Party: it’s hit rock bottom, so the only way is up. Whatever its percentage of votes may be, the party seems poised to perform better than in the general elections. But will it choose the centrist LREM, or the far-left LFI, both headed by former socialists? Paradoxically, its relatively weak influence gives it a role of arbiter that could tip the scales, and its candidates will likely be approached by other parties between 12 and 19 June.

3.And what of atypical situations?

Given that the candidates for the two traditionally strong parties were eliminated from the presidential race, nothing more can surprise us. Seeing parties such as the FN and LFI, the PS and LREM, or FN and LR go head to head are not unfathomable, and decisions will thus be made on a case by case basis.

If there is one thing to be sure of, however, it’s that it is impossible to predict the outcome of the vote. The number of variables is so great that, without a crystal ball, no one can claim to know what the future holds for France. It is what makes current French politics so thrilling after years of inertia.

Translated by Felix Constant-Hynes

Factual or translation error? Tell us.