French election: Macron loses absolute majority in parliament, raising fears of political gridlock

The president’s Ensemble coalition has gone from having 345 seats in the National Assembly to just 245, while the left and far right have made big gains

Emmanuel Macron Elecciones Francia
French President Emmanuel Macron leaves after voting in Le Touquet, northern France, on June 19.Michel Spingler (EFE)

France has entered uncharted territory. After five years of undisputed control of parliament, Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Ensemble alliance lost its absolute majority on Sunday. The result of the parliamentary runoff means that the French president will need to strike compromises in a parliament that now has a strong opposition from left-wing and far-right groupings. The country has two alternatives: either learn how to build consensus – a foreign concept in France’s presidential system – or face political gridlock.

It’s a crushing defeat for Macron, who just two months ago was comfortable reelected to a second term. His coalition has gone from having 345 seats in parliament to just 245, according to the final results. This is far short of the 289 required for an absolute majority in the 577-seat National Assembly, the parliament’s lower chamber. Meanwhile, big gains were made by the New Ecologic and Social People’s Union (NUPES), a coalition of left-wing populists, socialists and environmentalists led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, which came in second place with 127. The second round of the legislative election also saw the rise of the far-right party National Rally (RN, previously known as the National Front), which has gone from having eight seats in parliament to 89.

The abstention rate was 53.7%, half a point higher than in the first round on June 12, but five points lower than in the second round in 2017. The seat numbers could change once all the lawmakers – some were running as independents – have been placed in each parliamentary group. The French parliament will reflect, more faithfully than before, the tripartite power-sharing model between the center, left-wing and far right that has dominated French politics since Macron came to power in 2017.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said the “unprecedented” situation “is a risk to our country faced with challenges at the national level as well as at the international scale.” She added: “We will work as of tomorrow to build a working majority.”

A new political era is starting in France. For five years, Macron has been able to govern without being challenged in parliament, which in most cases, has been limited to rubber-stamping the president’s initiatives. On Sunday, the French sent a message to Macron: there must be checks on his power. He will no longer be able to govern alone; he will need votes from other parties. His entire reform program is on hold, and it is not clear whether he will be able to secure support for his domestic policies. Questions are also being raised about his strategic abilities. Confident of an easy win after being reelected, Macron kept a low profile during the campaign for the legislative election.

Ensemble could reach an absolute majority by partnering with the center-right party The Republicans (LR), which has 64 seats. But the president of LR, Christian Jacob, warned: “We will remain in opposition.” If Macron fails to form an absolute majority, he can dissolve parliament and call new legislative elections.

“Tonight’s result marks above all Macron’s defeat,” said Mélenchon, while Le Pen declared: “We will be a firm opposition, without compromise.”

Several of Macron’s ministers were candidates in the legislative elections and at least three have lost their seats and will have to leave office: Minister of Ecological Transition, Amélie de Montchalin, Health Minister Brigitte Bourguignon and the Secretary of State for the Sea, Justine Bénin. Sunday’s results have kickstarted the race to be Macron’s successor in 2027. The French president cannot run for a third consecutive term and his allies, former prime minister Édouard Philippe and current Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire, are both eyeing the position.

The results of the election throw into doubt whether Macron will be able to pass key domestic policies, such as his pension reform, which would raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 or 65.

The election results have also thrown up another question: what will become of Mélenchon? The politician is the undisputed leader of the left, but did not run in the legislative elections, meaning he has no seat in parliament. He had hoped NUPES would outperform Ensemble and force Macron to appoint him as prime minister. That did not happen, but it is thanks to him that the leftist alliance is now the largest parliamentary group in parliament.

In the first round of the legislative election, on June 12, Ensemble took 25.75% of the vote and NUPES, 25.66%. Ahead of the second round, Macron presented Ensemble as the party of order and warned that a Mélenchon victory would cause chaos, to which the leftist leader replied: “Macron is chaos.”

While Macron is seeking to raise the retirement age, Mélenchon wants to lower it to 60. His coalition also campaigned to increase the minimum wage to €1,500 ($1,580) a month and set price controls on essential goods. However, each party within the NUPES coalition is set to have its own parliamentary group. Given these parties have differing views on the European Union and capitalism, there is the risk that the coalition will fracture.

The newly elected parliament will convene on June 28, when the president of the National Assembly will be elected. In the meantime, Macron may have to reshuffle the government he formed in May after the presidential election.

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