Why Macron’s supremacy could spell problems for both France and the president

There are reasons why a resounding victory in the parliamentary elections for Emmanuel Macron's party could spell bad news for France and the president himself.

Why Macron's supremacy could spell problems for both France and the president
Photo: AFP

Macron's mandate is hardly the strongest

“It's a muted, incomplete victory because he does not enjoy the backing of a majority of the French people,” pollster Gael Sliman told AFP.

The low turnout could be explained partly by election fatigue, but also by “those who may not agree with Macron but do not want to block his path,” said Sliman, of the Odoxa polling institute.

Political scientist Jerome Sainte-Marie noted that only one in three potential voters actually cast ballots for REM candidates, given the 49 percent turnout in Sunday's first-round parliamentary vote, in addition to eligible voters who did not register and those who cast blank or spoilt ballots.

Remember this comes after 16 million voters abstained in the second round of the presidential election when Macron was up against Marine Le Pen, added to that are the 10 or so million voters who said they only backed Macron to keep Le Pen out.

“The abstention reflects the disaffection (with politics) of part of the French electorate, notably the working class,” Sainte-Marie said, adding: “Young people… were especially demoralised by the presidential election.”

The record-low turnout — the lowest in six decades — “reveals a pretty weak sociological and political foundation for the new administration,” said Sainte-Marie, of the PollingVox institute.

The Macron team itself recognised the liability, with spokesman Christophe Castaner calling the low turnout “a failure of this election” and emphasising the need to reach out to those who stayed away.

Bad for a healthy democracy?

French President Emmanuel Macron's rivals on Monday warned against handing him an overwhelming parliamentary majority that would stifle debate, after his party cruised to victory in the opening round of elections to the National Assembly.

Macron's year-old centrist Republic on the Move (REM) party and its allies are tipped to clean up in the 577-member lower house of parliament, winning up to 445 seats — an unprecedented total for a post-war president.

The opposition and French press expressed concern over what the left-wing Liberation daily called the “quasi-Stalinist result”.

The leader of the rightwing Republicans in the Paris area, Valerie Pecresse, appealed for a “civic surge”, warning of the risk of “groupthink”.

Ex-prime minister and party grandee Alain Juppe said, urging voters to get behind the opposition “The stakes of the second round are clear,” . “Having a monochrome parliament is never good for democratic debate,” he added.


No credible opposition

Macron made the most of weakness and scandals to blow apart France's traditional political parties in the presidential election and he continues to do the same in the parliamentary elections.

“What is new about this election is that opposition forces have crumbled,” said Martial Foucault, director of the Cevipof research centre.

“We don't know who will really embody the opposition, and that is the gamble Emmanuel Macron took and won — spreading his political tent as widely as possible to the left and right,” Foucault told French radio.

Political scientist Jerome Sainte-Marie told AFP “today there is no credible opposition” to the 39-year-old former investment banker.

The Macron juggernaut left behind an opposition made up of “irreconcilable parts” — the radical left, the far right and the traditional left and right, Sainte-Marie said.

That's hardly Macron's fault of course.

But while many in France, even Macron's opponents are keen for him to be given a chance to govern and reform the country, the lack of necessary checks and balances that a strong opposition in parliament would provide, may prompt opposition in other forms.

Dissent will be on the streets not in the Assembly

Sunday's results show Macron will have a relatively free hand to push through the ambitious labour, economic and social reforms he promised on the campaign trail.

He will also have succeeded in ushering in a younger and more diverse parliament with more women and ethnic minorities.

But with many of the new lawmakers owing him their seats, analysts have warned that the next parliament could be unusually submissive.

Macron's opponents have already warned that they will take the fight to the streets.

A group of trade unions and NGOs opposed to his proposals to loosen the country's strict labour laws have called for demonstrations in several cities on June 19.

With Macron planning to pass his labour reforms through decrees we can expect the street protests to be particularly lively.

Macron's novice and unpredictable MPs

Martial Foucault, director of the Cevipof research centre warned that with scores of REM lawmakers taking elective office for the first time, “there will be a learning curve, a period of discovery that may lead to a kind of disillusionment.”

Furthermore, “these new lawmakers will want to do well, to succeed on a political programme that in my view is not yet totally clear. We don't know really what targets they have. We have some economic details but it's very vague regarding social benefits,” Foucault told French radio.

What is more, Sliman said, the new MPs owe their political life to Macron, who launched his movement barely a year ago. “Never have there been so many lawmakers so beholden to their leader,” he said. “They owe absolutely everything to him.”

Macron runs the risk of believing “that just because everyone around him agrees with him, all the French do,” Sliman said. “He'd be wrong.”

Pascal Perrineau, a researcher at Cevipof told AFP: “Within this gigantic parliamentary party there could be internal difficulties. At first this (majority) will seem like a gift from heaven, but it will eventually be seen as a difficulty.”

In other words Macron's new pop-up party will at some point be beset by the same problems that afflicted his opponents and enabled him to take power.




Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron

The far-right National Rally party led by Marine Le Pen finished top in European elections in France on Sunday, dealing a blow to pro-European President Emmanuel Macron.

Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron
Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella. Photo: AFP

Results released on Monday morning by the Ministry of the Interior, which have yet to be formally verified and declared by the National Voting Commission, showed that the far right Rassemblement National (RN) party topped the polls with 23.3 percent of the vote, beating French president Emmanuel Macron's La Republique En Marche.

They were closely followed by Macron's party, which polled 22.4 percent.

Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron at a polling station in Le Touquet earlier on Sunday. Photo: AFP

The allocation of seats in the European Parliament has been complicated for France by the UK's delayed departure from the EU.

The Parliament had already decided that after Brexit, some of the seats that had been occupied by British MEPs would be reallocated to other countries, with France set to gain an extra five seats

However, last minute delays to Brexit meant that the UK had to take part in the elections, with the result that France will not gain its extra seats until Britain leaves the EU.

On last night's polling results, the RN will get 22 seats in the European parliament immediately, and an extra seat once Britain leaves.

Macron's LREM will get 21 seats now and 23 after the UK leaves.

The green party lead by Yannick Jadot was placed third with 13.4 percent of the vote, gaining 12 seats now and 13 after Brexit. 

The two parties that between them had dominated French politics for decades until the rise of Macron both polled in single figures. Nicolas Sarkozy's old party Les Republicains polled 8.4 percent, while the Socialist party of Francois Hollande was on 6.31 percent, winning them eight and six seats respectively.

Meanwhile the 'yellow vest' candidates scored just 0.54 percent of the vote, below the Animalist party which polled 2.17 percent.

Nathalie Loiseau with LREM party workers. Photo: AFP

Although a total of 34 parties fielded candidates in the European elections in France, the election had largely been framed as a contest between Macron and Le Pen.

Macron's La Republique En Marche party, its list headed by former Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau, was contesting its first European elections.

Marine Le Pen, on the other hand, was hoping to replicate her 2014 European election victory with her Rassemblement National party, its list headed by a political novice, the 23-year-old Jordan Bardella. Bardella called the results a “failure” for the LREM ruling party and sought to portray Macron's defeat as a rejection by voters of his pro-business agenda in France and pro-EU vision.

Macron had made no secret of the significance he attached to the results, telling regional French newspapers last week that the EU elections were the most important for four decades as the union faced an “existential threat”.

Jordan Bardella, head of the RN list. Photo: AFP

He has jumped into the campaign himself in recent weeks, appearing alone on an election poster in a move that analysts saw as exposing him personally if LREM underperformed.

The score of the National Rally is slightly below the level of 2014 when it won 24.9 percent, again finishing top.

Le Pen had placed herself towards the bottom of the RN list, so she will be returning to the European Parliament, where she served as an MEP from 2004 to 2017.

Turnout at the polls in France was the highest in recent years, with 50.12 percent of people voting, significantly up from 35.07 percent in 2014.

Veteran France reporter John Lichfield said: “After six months of 'yellow vest' rebellion, that Macron list has 22 percent is respectable. Much better than President Hollande did in 2014 (14.5 percent).

“But he made the election all about himself and lost. His hopes of emerging as de facto EU leader or enacting more French reforms are damaged.”