Can France avoid both a far-right government and a political crisis?

“Emmanuel Macron had almost everything: the Elysée Palace for the next three years; a parliamentary majority, of course, a relative majority, but still a majority; a party in excellent shape; a narrow but surprisingly strong electoral base; a damaged personal image, but at the same time, an undisputed authority. And now he’s losing everything.” That’s how Le Figaro’s editorial described the consequences of the first round of the French parliamentary elections.

The French media focused not on the defeat of Macron’s bloc and the victory of the far-right National Rally, but on the possibility of a deep political crisis in the country from a medium-term perspective.

In the first round, Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally Party gained a clear lead. The far-right and eurosceptic party was supported by about 34.2% of voters.

39 members of Le Pen’s party won the election in the first round, and in many constituencies where the second round will take place, RN candidates are the race leaders.

This makes a scenario possible in which the far-right will gain an absolute majority, thereby gaining control of the French government.

The first round’s turnout was record-breaking at 66.7%. France last recorded such high voters’ participation in 1997. Since then, the French interest in elections has been steadily declining; in the last two parliamentary elections, the turnout was below 50%.

Thus, there was at least one bet that French President Emmanuel Macron decided to go all-in and called early parliamentary elections.

However, the president hoped that the high turnout would bring to the polls voters who were afraid of the victory of both the far right and the far left and therefore would vote for the president’s political force. It turned out that the high turnout helped the bloc of left-wing parties, the New People’s Front, more than Macron’s bloc.

The far-right RN (National Rally) anticipates receiving between 240 and 270 seats in the second round. This is slightly less than the number of seats needed for a majority (289), but much more than the current presence of the far-right in parliament (88).

The New People’s Front received 28% of votes, and their candidates won in the first round in 22 constituencies. In total, this bloc, consisting of Socialists, Greens, Communists, and the Rise of France, can claim 120–200 seats in the parliament. 

Instead, the presidential party “Renaissance” and its allies received only 21% of support and won only one district in the first round.

With such results, they can only count on 65–90 seats in the second round, whereas they had the largest faction of 250 MPs in the current parliament.

Macron’s calculation to increase support for his party compared to the European elections did not work. The New Popular Front bloc brought together both counter-systemic left-wing radical forces, such as the Rise of France and the Communists, and traditional forces, such as the Socialists and the Greens. Together, they managed to attract different groups of voters.

Failure of the Republicans

The center-right Republicans went to the polls in “internal struggle” mode. It all started with the decision of party chairman Eric Ciotti to agree to an alliance with the far right, a move that came as a shock to most party members.

However, attempts to remove Ciotti from the party chairmanship failed. And according to the results of the first round, the Republicans took fourth place in the elections with 6.6% and have a chance to bring 30 to 50 deputies to parliament.

However, the key question is how many of their elected MPs will be willing to follow Ciotti into a coalition with the far right, as for most of the party members, this will be unacceptable.

Tactical withdrawals to stop the far-right in the second round

In France, all candidates who received at least 12.5% of the vote in the first round go to the second round. Accordingly, there may be three or even four candidates in the second round.

Usually, elections with “triangles”—constituencies with three candidates—are the exception rather than the rule. But these elections are special. In 310 constituencies, three or more candidates made it to the second round.

During this week, more than 200 candidates have withdrawn from the second round of early elections to prevent the far-right party from forming an absolute majority in parliament. France saw the withdrawal of 130 members of the left-wing New People’s Front, 82 members of the “Together” (Ensemble) bloc of President Emmanuel Macron, and two Republican candidates.

In this way, they fulfilled their political forces’ request, which called on third-place candidates to withdraw in favor of the one who has the best chance of defeating the far-right rival from Le Pen’s party in the second round.

French President Emmanuel Macron called for “democratic unity” in the second round to counter the far right.

Who could become the new French prime minister?

One thing is clear now: the presidential bloc’s poor performance prevents it from becoming a focal point for the next coalition. Even if the left and center succeed in gaining a majority, Macron’s bloc cannot expect to get the Prime Minister position.

But whether the left-wing bloc would accept such a coalition is still unclear. It depends on who will have the most mandates—representatives of the far-left “Unconquered France” (Jean-Luc Mélenchon) or the Socialists (a party that formed the government under socialist President Hollande).

In a scenario where Mélenchon’s party dominates the left-wing bloc, an alliance between the New People’s Front and Macron’s bloc would be almost impossible.

In this situation, a technical or technocratic government could be the solution, where no party has an advantage and business and finance professionals can hold ministerial positions instead of political party representatives. If necessary, another early election is possible (which may take place no earlier than a year).

So this Sunday, it will become clear whether the far right will come to power for the first time since World War II, whether France will fall into a deep political crisis, or whether the country will avoid the worst-case scenario via a technical cabinet.

Read all articles by Insight News Media on Google News, subscribe and follow.
Scroll to Top