Paris: French President Emmanuel Macron and his allies began a crucial week of campaigning on Monday to secure a parliamentary majority after a first round of voting that has galvanised a newly formed leftwing alliance.
A strong showing by the left-wing NUPES coalition and gains by the far right made it likely that Macron’s “Ensemble” (Together) alliance could lose dozens of National Assembly seats in the second round of voting next Sunday.
“One week to wrest an absolute majority,” Le Parisien titled its front page Monday, calling the first-round results a “warning” - not least for its record-low turnout of just 47.5 per cent.
Macron will face reporters Monday at the Eurosatory arms fair north of Paris, and his top lieutenants have already vowed to campaign hard against the “extremist” pledges of hard-left veteran Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the new NUPES alliance.
“The second round is turning into an anti-Macron referendum,” despite his winning re-election in April, Eric Coquerel, a leading NUPES candidate, told LCP television.
Based on Sunday’s results, Macron and his allies could emerge with 255-295 parliament seats, polling firms projected, well below the 345 it has currently.
Macron needs at least 289 seats for an absolute majority, otherwise he would need to win over right-wing opponents such as the Republicans for every legislative vote.
That could complicate the centrist’s plans for pushing back the retirement age to 65 as part of a pensions overhaul, as well as tax cuts or welfare reform.
Ministers in trouble
Melenchon, whose alliance finished neck-and-neck with Macron’s in the popular vote Sunday at just over 25 per cent each, said the president had been “defeated” and called for supporters to “pour out” for the second round.
He wants to lower the retirement age to 60 from 62, hike the minimum wage and create new taxes on the wealthy.
Analysts say Melenchon is unlikely to reach his goal of a NUPES majority - which would give him a shot at being prime minister, leaving Macron in control of international policy but his domestic agenda stymied.
In particular, he would have to mobilise many more young voters, who stayed home in droves on Sunday.
Polling firms projected that NUPES would hold 150-210 seats in the new parliament, making it the biggest opposition group.
Adding to Macron’s worries, a handful of his ministers running for parliament seats appear to be in trouble.
While his technocrat Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne is likely to win in her first political race ever, his high-profile Europe Minister Clement Beaune came in second in a central Paris district.
Ecology Transition Minister Amelie de Montchalin and Stanislas Guerini, Macron’s party chief and civil service minister, are also at risk of losing next Sunday.
Ministers that fail to get elected will have to resign, according to French political conventions which Macron has vowed to uphold.
If his Together alliance fails to secure an absolute majority, its key players such as the popular former prime minister Edouard Philippe may demand greater sway in his cabinet.
That could result in a government reshuffle just a few weeks after Macron nominated Borne in the wake of his re-election.