A resounding electoral victory does not always guarantee stability in power. French President Emmanuel Macron defeated far-right candidate Marine Le Pen by 17 points in April’s presidential election. But, in order to govern smoothly for the next five years, he must revalidate his current absolute majority in the legislative elections on June 12 and 19.
Macron’s rival is no longer Le Pen. She is blurred in this campaign and, in any case, she usually fails in the legislative ones: today she does not have a parliamentary group in the National Assembly. The rival is Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the veteran leader of the anti-capitalist and eurosceptic left, who is emerging as the greatest threat to the centrist president in the new five-year period.
“Today we are the opposition to Macron,” declares Danièle Obono, a deputy for Paris from Mélenchon’s party and a candidate for re-election. “The macronist regime is restless.”
Mélenchon came third in the presidential elections, with 7.7 million votes, the best result in its history. He was 400,000 votes short of the second round. He established himself as the strong man of the left, and has managed to unite socialists, environmentalists and communists under his tutelage.
“Elect me prime minister,” Mélenchon has been repeating for weeks. The slogan is effective. It allows you to appear as the only alternative. And he projects the idea that the conquest of power is possible.
The leftist leader believes that, if the so-called New Popular Ecologist and Social Union (NUPES) obtains a majority in the National Assembly, the president will be forced to appoint him as head of a new government. It’s the revenge of the presidential.
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The absolute majority is in danger
It won’t be easy. The polls coincide: Ensemble (Together), which is the name of the Macronist candidacy, will be the one with the most deputies. But it is not certain that it will exceed 289, the threshold of an absolute majority. Now they have 347 deputies.
Macron, who governed without opposition for the first five years, may have to settle for being the first force with a relative majority, not an absolute one. This scenario would hinder the legislative process and force it to seek pacts with other forces.
“The legislative ones are a question of mobilization”, commented a few days ago Frédéric Dabi, general director of Opinion at the Ifop demographic institute. “If Emmanuel Macron mobilizes, he wins. If the left mobilizes his camp, he can get many deputies and, although he may not be able to win, he could impose a relative majority on Macron ”.
The presidential elections have consecrated the disappearance of the old party system in which the social democratic left (that of presidents François Mitterrand and François Hollande) and the moderate right (that of Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy) alternated in power. A new tripartite scheme has been consolidated: Macron’s hypercenter, Mélenchon’s left and Le Pen’s nationalist and populist right. The new tripartite France will take shape, with nuances, in the National Assembly.
An Ifop projection gives the macronistas between 275 and 310 deputies out of 577; to the Mélenchonists, between 170 and 205; to the historic right of Los Republicanos, which survives and would score between 35 and 55; and Le Pen, between 20 and 50.
The legislative ones are, in reality, 577 elections in 577 districts. In each of them, the two with the most votes in the first round and those with more than 12.5% of registered voters (more abstentionist voters) go to the second round. Each district elects a deputy.
The Macronist Advantage of Ensemble is to place itself in the center of the board in the face of options that a majority perceive as radical. In the second round, their candidates should rally voters who want to stop Mélenchon’s or Le Pen’s candidates. There is usually, in this system, a cousin to moderate.
“I hope that, in the continuation of the presidential election, the French opt for the solidity of a stable and serious majority to protect them against crises and to act in the future”, Macron declared this Saturday in an interview with Le Parisian and several regional newspapers. “The project of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Mrs. Le Pen”, he adds, “is disorder and submission”. He is referring to the alleged submission of his rivals to Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
The interview marks the entry into the campaign of the president. The novelty is the creation of a National Refoundation Council, inspired by the National Council of the Resistance that, after World War II, laid the foundations of modern France. This entity, made up of ordinary citizens chosen by lottery, among others, should be in charge of promoting the reforms. But not from the Elysée Palace or Paris, but associating citizens.
Macron charged, in the interview, also against Mélenchon’s claim to be prime minister. And he recalled that he is not even running for a seat in these legislative elections, although it is not unusual for the prime minister in France not to be a deputy. He also warned that, even if NUPES won the elections, he would not have to appoint its leader as head of government: “No political party can impose a name on the president.”
A complicated interregnum
Typically, after a presidential election, the French renew confidence in the newly elected head of state by giving him a parliamentary majority to implement his program. But this interregnum between the presidential and legislative elections has been complicated for Macron.
The new government, headed by the center-left technocrat Élisabeth Borne, is not enthusiastic. And her problems accumulate. Two women have accused the Minister for Solidarities and Disabilities, former right-wing leader Damien Abad, of rape. He is still in office. The organizational chaos and the incidents, a week ago, in the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool have left the Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, in a bad position and have damaged the image of France.
Added to all this is inflation, which the Government wants to counteract with measures to promote purchasing power. And another obstacle: the unpopularity of Macron’s star promise for the five-year period, the pension reform and the increase in the retirement age from the current 62 years to 64 or 65. Mélenchon promises to lower it to 60.
An added complication is that 15 of the 27 ministers, in addition to Prime Minister Borne, are candidates for the legislative elections. The president has made it clear that those who lose will have to leave.
The legislative ones have something of a plebiscite on the Government. This is the argument of the Mélenchonists, but they face a major difficulty, similar to that of Le Pen: mobilizing, in elections traditionally with high abstention, an electorate less likely to go to the polls than Macron’s.
“If these people vote again, we win,” says deputy Obono, alluding to Mélenchon’s voters in the presidential elections. “That Jean-Luc Mélenchon said ‘elect me prime minister, there is a third round of presidential elections’, has caught people’s attention.”
“There are four blocs in France: the macronist, the extreme right, the popular and the abstentionist,” describes Danielle Simonnet, a candidate in Paris for what she calls the “popular bloc” or Mélenchonist. “What we need”, she adds, “is to mobilize our own and, at the same time, mobilize the abstentionists”.
Simonnet already sees Mélenchon at the Matignon Palace, seat of the head of government. And he predicts that, in this case, the established powers “will not sit idly by.” “We will raise the minimum wage by decree, we will restore the wealth tax, we will launch the fiscal revolution,” he lists. “They will not let themselves be done.”
It is Friday afternoon, and Simonnet participates with Obono in a “popular aperitif” in the Edith Piaf square, in eastern Paris. A star guest has arrived. It was the British Mélenchon, the man who unsuccessfully led the Labor Party: Jeremy Corbyn. Passing through Paris, the British politician took the opportunity to support Danièle Obono and Danielle Simonnet. He cheers for socialism and takes photos with neighbors and supporters.
“The unity of the left in France is welcomed by your friends and comrades in Britain,” Corbyn tells them. “Win this election! For the two Danielles! For the youth and for decency in our society!”
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