After the first round of the French general election, this is good news for President Emmanuel Macron. In all probability there will be no “cohabitation”. He will be spared the task of governing alongside a prime minister who comes from a different political camp. But that was the good news.
With a view to the result, Macron’s Minister for Relations with Parliament and Democratic Life, Olivier Véran, spoke of a warning for the president’s party alliance on the evening of the election. In the first vote for the new National Assembly, it got 25.75 percent of the votes and is almost on a par with the left-wing electoral union, which has 25.66 percent.
First-past-the-post system is likely to result in Macron’s candidates having a majority in the National Assembly. The only question is whether they will achieve an absolute majority in the second ballot next Sunday. If that doesn’t succeed, Macron could find it difficult to implement planned political reforms quickly.
To do this, he would have to look for other allies and would be particularly dependent on the support of the conservative “Les Républicains”. They got a good ten percent of the votes nationwide on Sunday. Forecasts by the Ipsos Institute predict 255 to 295 seats for Macron’s party alliance. 289 seats are required for an absolute majority. So it could be tight.
For Macron, the result is also sobering for other reasons: some people close to the president have had very bad results. Former Minister of Education Jean-Michel Blanquer did not even reach the second round of voting in his constituency, but ended up with 18.89 percent of the votes behind the candidates of the far-right “Rassemblement National” and the left-wing electoral alliance.
Stanislas Guerini, previously head of the parliamentary group of Macron’s party “La République en Marche” and newly appointed Minister for Transformation and Public Service, came in second with 32.5 percent of the vote behind the left-wing candidate. He still has to worry about his entry into parliament – and about his ministerial post. All fifteen ministers who also ran for MPs at the same time must win. Otherwise, as Macron has announced, they will have to leave the government.
The election campaign “Entre-deux-tour” – as the time between two ballots is called in France – is likely to be tough. The left electoral union led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon will do everything to deny Macron an absolute majority.
In the first ballot, the “New Ecological and Social People’s Union”, which brought together socialists, communists, Greens and Mélenchon’s “Indomitable France” party, was rewarded with a strong result for the great campaign efforts. Nevertheless, the dream of providing the parliamentary majority and thus the prime minister is probably over.
On election night, the visibly moved Mélenchon called on the French to flock to the ballot box next Sunday. He spoke of a “remarkable opportunity” for “our personal lives and the fate of the fatherland”. However, there was no longer any talk of becoming prime minister.
The “Rassemblement National” party of the right-wing extremist Marine Le Pen also achieved a relatively good result, receiving 18.68 percent of the votes nationwide. According to forecasts, the party can hope for 20 to 45 parliamentary seats and thus form a parliamentary group for the first time since 1986. This requires at least 15 seats. The former presidential candidate Éric Zemmour and all other candidates of his right-wing extremist party “Reconquete” were eliminated in the first round.
The historically low voter turnout of 52.49 percent is equally bitter for all political camps. More than half of those entitled to vote did not even cast their vote. If you include this high number, then just twelve percent of the registered voters voted for both Macron’s party alliance and the left-wing party alliance. Sobering figures, especially for a president who took up his first term in office with a promise to renew and revitalize democracy.
Véran, the minister for democratic life, said on Sunday, looking at the many non-voters: “We hear the silence of the ballot boxes, we hear the noise of the street.” The French press reported that Macron had instructed his allies to face the result with humility to react.
In addition to this humble attitude, the strategy with which the government intends to win the favor of the voters before the second round was already announced on the evening of the election. The recipe includes two ingredients that were already used in the presidential election campaign.
On the one hand there is the urgent warning of a political danger. Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne spoke of an “unprecedented confusion between the extremes” on Sunday evening. The extreme right and the left should probably be branded equally as dangerous.
Several candidates for Macron’s party alliance even announced on election night that they would not make a recommendation in the event of a duel between the left-wing electoral union and Le Pen’s far-right party. An attitude with risk, as it turned out. It was quickly debated whether Macron’s party was not taking a clear stance against the right-wing extremists, which they had warned about during the presidential election campaign.
Prime Minister Borne then declared on Monday that “no vote” should go to Le Pen’s “Rassemblement National”. In the event of a runoff between the extreme right and the left, they only want to speak out for the left-wing candidates who support “republican values”.
Macron himself seems to want to emphasize his foreign policy commitment again this week. Trips to French troops in Romania and Moldova are planned for Tuesday and Wednesday. It is also suspected that he could travel to Kyiv in Ukraine on Thursday together with Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
As before the presidential elections, he is counting on the fact that his importance in European politics will also help him in his own country. As before, he is likely to point out that France and Europe are in a clear time of crisis – and how much an absolute majority in Parliament is therefore necessary for the government to act decisively.
However, this plan is not without risk. The presidential election campaign showed that domestic concerns ultimately preoccupied the French more than foreign affairs. In addition, Macron’s strategy for the presidential elections – starting the election campaign very late and then stepping on the gas – only worked to a limited extent for the parliamentary elections.