The French legislative elections, which concluded their second round on Sunday, spell trouble for President Emmanuel Macron. Though he won a decisive victory in April’s presidential election, he may now struggle to govern with ease, facing off against strengthened camps to both the left and right of his nominally centrist coalition.
His party lost the absolute majority that it had enjoyed for the past five years, in a seeming rejection of the status quo that brought him to power in 2017.
The results are a window into what happens when the faction that styles itself as new and different becomes the establishment. As he had promised to do, Macron has remade the French political system. But the inevitable price he paid is that he is now the one against whom others rebel.
Here are some key takeaways from the results:
Macron’s ability to govern
In April, when Macron won a second-term victory against the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, the conventional wisdom was that one of the few French presidents in recent memory to win a coveted second term had done it again, pulling off a political triumph amid challenging odds. But it turns out that, in the minds of many voters, Macron’s victory was more a rejection of his opponent.
With the far right kept out of the Elyse Palace, voters are now expressing their discontent. Although abstention was high, Macron’s alliance, Ensemble, lost its absolute majority, winning 246 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly.
Granted, Ensemble remains the largest voting bloc in the chamber, but its totals this year mean that Macron will likely encounter more turbulence governing during his second term. Some of the proposals of his first term, such as pension reform, will now likely meet more resistance, especially given the emergence of a new left-wing coalition and an even more muscular far right.
French left is by no means dead
Perhaps the most interesting storyline of the legislative elections has been the emergence of a left-wing political force — one that has materialised from an ideological camp assumed until recently to be dormant. The New Popular Ecological and Social Union (NUPES), a constellation of left-wing parties spearheaded by the firebrand politician Jean-Luc Mlenchon, had as of Monday won 142 seats in France’s National Assembly, according to Le Monde.
For months — and even years — a frequent refrain of political commentary has been that the “left is dead,” a storyline seemingly confirmed by the disastrous end to François Hollande left-wing administration in 2017. But what the rise of NUPES has shown — following on the heels of Mlenchon’s strong presidential campaign in the spring — is that a muscular left is possible.
The appeal of NUPES so far lies in its promises of a lower retirement age and a higher minimum wage. How NUPES will function as a bloc in Parliament remains to be seen, but the preliminary results show that the left as a political force is far from dead; it was just previously fragmented.
Le Pen’s far-right campaign fared well
Though Le Pen was rebuked once again in her quest for the presidency, her party — now called Rassemblement National — continues its march toward legitimacy in the eyes of the French public. According to Le Monde’s calculations, the party won 89 seats in the National Assembly, the largest share in its history.
“The people have spoken,” Le Pen proclaimed in the northern town of Hnin-Beaumont, her constituency. “Overcoming the obstacle of a particularly unfair voting system unsuited to the values of our time, the people have decided to send a very powerful group of Rassemblement National MPs to the Assemble Nationale, which therefore becomes ... a little more national.” Never before has her party had this much legislative visibility, which certainly counts as a first in the postwar history of France.
In his second term, Macron may still be able to find his way despite the strengthened factions to his right and left; he has certainly navigated himself out of political quandaries before. But the president, who once promised a “revolution” in French politics, may soon find himself facing challenges of a different sort.
James McAuley holds a PhD in French history from the University of Oxford, where he was a Marshall Scholar.