After the first round of legislative elections on June 12, President Emmanuel Macron's coalition, Ensemble! has lost its absolute majority and has had to contend with a nearly equal score of 25.7 percent with the left-wing coalition Nupes led by Jean Luc Mélenchon's party and its allies EELV (Greens), and the Socialist and Communist parties. The latest count puts Ensemble! ahead of the Nupes by only 21,442 votes.
This is a significant blow for Macron who, despite winning the presidency, is far from being granted an absolute majority to govern as he has for the past five years. This time, it will be impossible for him to properly govern without the centre-right (MoDem and Horizons led by his former prime minister Edouard Philippe) and the conservative parties.
In what seems to be the end of an era, several key figures from the Macron government are also in a weak position for the second round. Others were eliminated in the first.
Former Minister of Education Jean Michel Blanquer, infamous for his obsession with Muslim students and mothers, and one of the architects of the so-called "Islamo-leftism" controversy, scored less than 20 percent and will not be in the second round.
Former socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls, endorsed by Macron's party, was also eliminated in the first round. He is known for his brutal anti-Muslim rhetoric grounded in a weaponisation of laïcité. He spent years praising Macron in the hopes of securing a position in his government, but this defeat looks like the end of his political career.
When it comes to the left, Mélenchon successfully maintained his momentum from the presidential campaign. Nupes succeeded in depriving Macron of the absolute majority he needed to maintain his neoliberal reforms, particularly the most feared plan to revamp the country's pension system.
Mélenchon's La France Insoumise, which had supported the Socialist Party's anti-Muslim interpretation of laïcité, made a sharp turn in 2019 to secure Muslim votes ahead of the 2020 municipal elections. It thus avoided the fate of the Socialist Party by rebranding itself as an opponent of the anti-separatism law and, more generally, against the constant targeting of Muslims.
Though Mélenchon won his bet of bringing the left together against Macron, it will be a stiff road ahead. Unlike Ensemble!, Nupes does not have a sufficient voting reserve for the second round. And despite their rivalries, Ensemble! and the political right share the objective of keeping the left at bay and blocking it from securing a majority in parliament.
The high abstention rate further threatens Nupes' position. Its only leverage will be to convince younger voters — a central part of its electorate — to get out and vote. An estimated 69 percent of 18 to 24-year-old and 71 percent of 25 to 34-year-old voters abstained in the first round.
The core electorate of Ensemble!, meanwhile, those aged 60 and above, abstained at a much lower rate (40 percent for voters aged 60 to 69 and 31 percent for those 70 and above).
Overall, nearly 53 percent of voters abstained from participating in the election according to records — the highest level of abstention since 1958 — confirming the chasm between the population and its political representatives.
The dynamics of the presidential campaign also remain the same with regards to Marine Le Pen's far-right National Rally, which came third with 18.7 percent of the vote.
Analysts were also closely watching the results of firebrand Eric Zemmour. After his humiliation during the presidential race (7.07 percent), the far-right candidate has also been eliminated in the first round against a candidate from Le Pen's National Rally.
Zemmour's party did not even reach the 5 percent bar nationally, and it will be challenging for what his party calls a "movement" to remain relevant in the years to come.
Despite a significant defeat in the presidential election, the main conservative party, Les Républicains will remain an important voice in the National Assembly. With 10.4 percent of the vote, there is a chance the Macron government will approach it for a coalition, yet the extent it will "work" with Macron remains unknown as they are squeezed between his party and the far right.
“End of an era”
Macron appears to be aware of his unpopularity, and has let his newly appointed Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne head the campaign for his party, which, along with its allies, lost 7 points in the 2022 legislative election compared to the 2017 vote.
Given Macron's use and overuse of "Islamodiversion" — creating anti-Muslim controversies anytime his government is challenged — he is in even more difficult position.
This is because he is bound to lose an absolute majority and the architect of the anti-separatism law, Gerald Darmanin, is still in government. In other words, racist controversies will continue to saturate public debates at the initiative of Macron and his party, La République En Marche!, or his allies.
And while Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise has adopted a new rhetoric opposing Macron's anti-Muslim policies, the Nupes coalition it is leading is not immune from other controversies around Muslims and police brutality. Mélenchon has temporarily "muted" anti-Islam rhetoric, not eliminated it.
For now, however, Mélenchon focussed on pushing the idea that Macron has lost — and that he can be the next prime minister. According to the French Constitution, the premier is chosen by the president, and the former has to represent the majority at the National Assembly.
But it is an ambitious bet. Even if the Nupes coalition does manage to secure a majority, which is still not guaranteed, how long would the coalition last if the president decides to choose the premier from the ranks of minority parties in the coalition to create friction?
One thing is clear, however: Macron can no longer govern as he has in the past. The days of his absolute majority are over. Even if he secures a majority with his allies, he will have to get their approval for every single bill, thus giving them leverage to obtain concessions from him.
If Macron's nightmare of Nupes somehow securing a majority comes true, he will have to go through a "cohabitation" in which his prime minister will come from the ranks of the opposition. That would halt his ambitions — if not reverse his agenda — and would give space for democracy and oblige him to compromise instead of imposing his will onto others.
Failing to govern at home due to bargaining with the opposition or negotiating in a coalition with the right and centre-right, Macron could contend with the monopoly given to him by the French Constitution and focus on foreign affairs and the military and spend the rest of his mandate trying to be relevant on the international scene.
Macron has less than one week to come up with a miracle before the second round.
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