Opposition rise weakens Macron’s absolute majority in the French parliament

PARIS – French lawmakers gave President Emmanuel Macron a hard blow on Sunday as his center-right coalition lost its absolute majority in the lower house of parliament to a resurgent right-wing and defiant left-wing alliance, complicating his domestic agenda. for its second period.

With almost every vote counted, Mr. Macron’s center-right coalition won at least 240 seats in the National Assembly with 577 seats, the lower and more powerful house of parliament. It was more than any other political group, but less than half of all the seats, and far less than the 350 seats that Mr Macron’s party and its allies won when he was first elected in 2017.

For the first time in 20 years, a newly elected president failed to muster an absolute majority in the National Assembly. It will not stop Mr Macron’s domestic agenda completely, but is likely to throw a big wrench into his ability to get bills passed – to move power back to parliament after an initial period in which his top-down governing style was largely marginalized. legislators.

Mr. Macron’s government is likely to have to seek a coalition or build short-term alliances on bills, but it was unclear on Sunday night how it could go about doing so.

The results were a sharp warning from French voters to Mr Macron, who just months ago convincingly won re-election against Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader. “The Slap” was Monday’s headline on the front of the left-wing daily Libération.

Élisabeth Borne, Prime Minister of Macron – who won her own race in Normandy – said on Sunday that the results were “unprecedented” and that “this situation poses a risk to our country given the challenges we face. “

“From tomorrow, we will work to build a majority of actions,” she said, suggesting, without giving details, that the government would work with other political parties to “build good compromises.”

Mr. Macron appeared to be uninvolved from the parliamentary elections and made only a few campaigns himself, and seemed more preoccupied with France’s diplomatic efforts to support Ukraine in its war against Russia – which Sunday’s results should not affect, as French presidents can pursue foreign policy for the most part. , as they will.

Speaking on the asphalt of an airport before a trip to Eastern Europe that took him to Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, last week, he had urged voters to give him a “solid majority” in the “nation’s overriding interest.”

But many French voters instead chose to either stay home – only about 46 percent of French voters went to the polls, the second-lowest turnout since 1958 – or to vote for Mr Macron’s most radical opponents.

Several of Mr Macron’s close allies or cabinet members running in the election lost their race, a stinging reprimand to the president, who had promised that ministers who could not win a seat would resign. Richard Ferrand, President of the National Assembly, and Amélie de Montchalin, his Minister for Green Conversion, were both defeated.

“We disappointed a certain number of French people, the message is clear,” Olivia Grégoire, spokeswoman for Mr Macron’s government, told France 2 television station on Sunday.

“It’s a disappointing first place, but it’s a first place nonetheless,” she said, adding that Mr Macron’s coalition would work in parliament with “all those who want to move the country forward.”

The preliminary results gave the alliance of left-wing parties – which includes the hard-line left-wing party France Unbowed, the Socialists, the Greens and Communists and led by left-wing veteran Jean-Luc Mélenchon – at least 124 seats, making it the largest opposition force in the National Assembly. The National Rally, Mrs Le Pen’s far right party, was expected to secure at least 89 seats, a historic record.

Étienne Ollion, a sociologist who teaches at the École Polytechnique, said Sunday’s results were “a double surprise.”

“It’s the absence of an absolute majority – we saw it coming, but did not expect it to be at that level – and on the other hand, it’s the strong breakthrough of the National Rally that is quite spectacular,” he said.

With a slim relative majority – the smallest in France’s 63-year-old Fifth Republic, according to Mr Ollion – and a strong opposition on the left and far right, Mr Macron’s center-right coalition could fight to pass bills, potentially. forcing him to reach out across the aisle to conflicting lawmakers by some votes.

“The way the president will be able to govern through his prime minister is quite uncertain at the moment,” Mr Ollion said.

It was not immediately clear which other allies Mr. Macron’s coalition could find to form a working majority, although it looked like the most likely fit would be Les Républicains, the mainstream Conservative party, which was expected to win just over 60 seats.

Mr. Macron will also be much more dependent on his centrist allies than he was in his first term, especially to pass controversial projects like his plan to raise the legal retirement age to 65 from 62. It could give more influence to parties like Horizons, a center-right group founded by Mr. Macron’s former prime minister, Édouard Philippe, who is more of a finance hawk. Horizons is expected to win around 25 seats.

“We are used to seeing France’s system as centered on the presidency” because it is the most powerful political office in the country, “said Olivier Rozenberg, associate professor at Sciences Po in Paris. But “these legislative choices remind us that our political system is also a parliamentary system.”

Mr. Mélenchon and Mrs Le Pen both said on Sunday that they had succeeded in disrupting Mr. Macron’s second period.

“The defeat of the Presidential Party is complete,” said Mr. Mélenchon to jubilant supporters in Paris. “We reached the political goal that we had set ourselves.”

Mélenchon failed to achieve his original goal, which was to take control of the National Assembly and force Mr Macron to appoint him Prime Minister. Major political differences among coalition members on issues such as the EU may also re-emerge when the lower house meets again later this month.

Still, it was a strong show for left-wing parties that had largely been written off as hopelessly divided during the presidential election.

At the other end of the political spectrum, Mrs Le Pen’s National Rally was expected to secure far more seats than the handful it now has, and far more than expected after Mrs Le Pen was defeated by Mr. Macron at the presidential election in April, and then ran a flawed campaign for the parliamentary.

Ms. Le Pen himself was practically re-elected to his seat in a district in northern France.

“This group will be by far the largest in the history of our political family,” she said in a speech Sunday, promising her supporters she would defend the party’s hard line on immigration and security.

Mr. Macron’s predicament is not unique to modern French history. In 1988, under President François Mitterrand, the Socialist Party was also unable to muster an absolute majority in the National Assembly, forcing it to occasionally poach legislators left or right to pass bills. But that government also had access to tools – such as the ability to force a bill through without a vote by subjecting the government to a vote of confidence – that are now far more limited.

Sunday’s vote was also marked by record low turnout, a warning sign for Mr. Macron, who has promised to rule closer to the people in his second term, and a testament to the growing dissatisfaction of voters with French politics.

“There is a representation problem,” said Aude Leroux, 44, who lives in Amiens, Mr Macron’s hometown in northern France, and avoided the ballot box on Sunday.

Ms. Leroux, who was on her way to clothing stalls at one of Amiens’ large open-air markets, said she felt “the most important issue has already been resolved,” with the end of the presidential race.

But Sunday’s result could prove her wrong, as Mr Macron may be forced to compromise to pass bills, and as opposition forces are expected to oversee key committees, such as the powerful finance committee that oversees the state budget.

“Incredible opportunities will come your way,” said Mr. Mélenchon to his left-wing lawmakers Sunday. “You have a great fighting tool at your disposal.”

Adele shoemakercontributed reporting from Amiens.

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