Paris: French President Emmanuel Macron and his allies on Monday were scrambling for a way out of political deadlock after losing their parliamentary majority in a stunning blow for the president and his reform plans.
Macron’s Ensemble (Together) coalition emerged as the largest party in Sunday’s National Assembly vote, but was dozens of seats short of keeping the parliamentary majority it had enjoyed for the last five years.
Surges on the left and the far-right destroyed the dominant position of Macron’s deputies who, for the past five years, had backed the president’s policies without fail.
Turnout was low, with the abstention rate recorded at 53.77 percent.
The left-leaning Liberation daily called the result a “slap in the face” for Macron, while the conservative Le Figaro said he was now “faced with an ungovernable France”.
Macron’s Together alliance won 244 seats, far short of the 289 needed for an overall majority.
The election saw the new left-wing alliance NUPES make gains to become the main opposition force along with its allies on 137 seats, according to the Interior Ministry.
But it is unclear if the coalition of Socialists, Communists, Greens and the hard-left France Unbowed will remain a united bloc in the National Assembly.
Meanwhile the far-right under Marine Le Pen posted the best legislative performance in its history, becoming the strongest single opposition party with 89 seats, up from eight in the outgoing chamber.
A confident Le Pen said her party would demand to chair the National Assembly’s powerful finance commission, as is tradition for the biggest opposition party.
“The country is not ungovernable, but it’s not going to be governed the way Emmanuel Macron wanted,” Le Pen told reporters Monday.
Le Pen said she would now give up her party’s leadership and focus instead on running her parliamentary group.
‘Cannot just continue’
Hard-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon, who leads the NUPES alliance, said he would bring a motion of no confidence against Macron’s Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne as early as July.
“The government formed by Emmanuel Macron cannot just continue as if nothing had happened,” Melenchon ally Manuel Bompard said Monday.
Borne, who was elected to parliament in her first-ever political race, was seen as vulnerable as Macron faces a new cabinet shake-up after several of his top allies lost their seats.
His health and environment ministers lost their seats and by tradition will have to resign, as did the parliament speaker and the head of Macron’s parliament group.
“For now the prime minister remains the prime minister,” government spokeswoman Olivia Gregoire defiantly told France Inter radio Monday. “My fear is that the country is paralysed.”
The outcome tarnished Macron’s April presidential election victory when he defeated Le Pen, becoming the first French president to win a second term in over two decades.
“It’s a turning point for his image of invincibility,” said Bruno Cautres, a researcher at the Centre for Political Research of Sciences Po.
‘A lot of imagination’
The options available to Macron, who has yet to publicly comment on the result, range from seeking to form a new coalition alliance, passing legislation based on ad hoc agreements to even calling new elections.
The most likely option would be an alliance with the Republicans, the traditional party of the French right, which has 61 MPs.
LR president Christian Jacob however said his party intended to “stay in opposition”.
Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire admitted “a lot of imagination will be needed” from Macron’s party in what Le Figaro said was “a jump into the unknown”.
“We are entering into a period that is unprecedented and uncertain,” said Jean-Daniel Levy of Harris Interactive France. “There is no ready made deal for a government,” he told AFP.
Macron had hoped to stamp his second term with an ambitious programme of tax cuts, welfare reform and raising the retirement age. All that is now in question.
A prominent MP from Melenchon’s party, Alexis Corbiere, said Macron’s plan to raise the French retirement age to 65 had now been “sunk”.
In a rare bit of good news for the president, Europe Minister Clement Beaune and Public Service Minister Stanislas Guerini - both young pillars of his party - won tight battles for their seats.
On the left, Rachel Keke, a former cleaning lady who campaigned for better working conditions at her hotel, was also elected, defeating Macron’s former sports minister Roxana Maracineanu.
Financial markets took the news of the result in their stride, with little reaction seen Monday on stock or debt markets.
“It’s not a scenario that’s excessively negative,” said Xavier Chapard, an analyst at Banque Postale. “The government will still be centrist, and it will still be pro-European.”