One in 12 of potential French voters cast a ballot for President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance in the first round of the parliamentary elections last Sunday.
The Left-Green alliance, Nupes, asks how Macron and his Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne can claim to have a mandate to govern the country, let alone reform it.
But how many potential voters cast a ballot for Nupes,, the alliance which wants to abolish the wicked, “ultra-liberal” status quo in the name of a suffering people? Er, also one in 12.
What of the the Far Right, the self-appointed spokespeople for the “real France”? They got roughly one in 14 potential votes.
The centre-right Les Républicians, successors to De Gaulle, Chirac and Sarkozy? They got just over one in 20.
The first round of the parliamentary elections ended in defeat. For everyone. Most of all for French democracy.
At a time of multiplying international and economic crises, confronted with a choice between “more-of-the-same” and “change-everything”, more than half the French electorate opted for the “bof” vote. Either they couldn’t be bothered to go to the polls or they decided that there was no difference between a Macron-led government and a Jean-Luc Mélenchon led government.
This was a terrible result for President Macron – the worst for a recently elected President in the history of the Fifth Republic. Macron’s centrist alliance Ensemble! took circa 26 percent of votes of the 47.5 percent of France which voted – six points down on 2017.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon is quite right. That is not a proper mandate for reforming the pension system or anything else – whether or not Macron scrapes a majority of seats in the National Assembly in the second round this Sunday.
And yet, despite all the hype and bombast, this was also a very poor result for Mélenchon’s Left-Green alliance. The circa 26 percent of the vote for Nupes was four points below what its four allied movements scored when running separately in the presidential election in April.
In 2017, reckoned to be a very bad year for the Left, they got 25 percent – only one point less. This year will be better in terms of seats gained because they put aside their differences (or concealed them temporarily) and ran as one alliance.
Fair enough. But what happened to the “surge” to the Left? Despite the alleged “social vandalism”of the Macron first term (which ended with the French state as large as ever and unemployment the lowest for 15 years), there was no such surge.
Projections for seat numbers after Sunday’s second round are fragile but none suggests that Nupes will get anything near the biggest bloc in the National Assembly – let alone a working majority. There will be no Prime Minister Mélenchon.
The Nupes alliance has, it is true, made all the media running since Sunday’s first round. President Emmanuel Macron was forced to make an unscheduled, national address on Tuesday from the tarmac at Orly airport before flying to Romania and Moldova.
He urged voters not to add “disorder at home to disorder abroad” at a time of international crisis. This was, in effect, an appeal to supporters of Les Républicains (LR) to rescue the government on Sunday in the 270 local races where there will be a dual between Macron and Mélenchon candidates. It is probable that many LR supporters will vote anti-Left but not perhaps in sufficient numbers to give Macron a majority (289 of the 577 seats).
All the media attention since Sunday has focused on 68 other second round “duals” – between candidates of the leftwing alliance and Le Pen candidates. Would the Macron campaign form a Republican Front, as it had demanded in the presidential election? Would it urge its supporters to vote for its Left-wing enemies to keep Far Right candidates out of the assembly?
It was symptomatic of a poorly-run Macron campaign that it produced several answers to this obvious question before settling on one line: no votes for the Far Right but Macron supporters could choose to abstain, or cast a blank ballot, if they considered that their local Left candidate was an “extremist”.
I don’t often knock the French media but its coverage of this issue has been mischievous and misleading. What of the 106 races where Macron candidates face Le Pen candidates? How does the Left alliance want its supporters to vote?
Nupes has been allowed to get away with saying almost nothing on this obvious point. Mélenchon said at the weekend that there would be no consigne (advice) by Nupes on Macron-Le Pen local races but that he expected his supporters to “do the right thing”.
In the presidential election in April, pollsters reckoned that one in three Mélenchon supporters switched to Le Pen in Round Two. The French media has failed miserably to point to this organised hypocrisy by Nupes, while concentrating on the milder hypocrisy in the Macron camp.
Conclusion. It has been a long and exhausting election season, (too long as I wrote last week), 12 months of campaigning and then four election days in two months. It is likely to end on Sunday in a muddle – a small or no clear parliamentary majority for the government.
The danger is not that Macron will be blocked from pushing through reforms. The danger is that a divided parliament will be unable to react rapidly to the economic and international crises which seem certain to grow deeper in the next two years.
There were no winners last Sunday. There will be no winners this Sunday. France may be the great loser.