French PM under pressure after Macron’s alliance loses absolute majority

France’s prime minister, Élisabeth Borne, is facing calls for her resignation after Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance lost its absolute majority in parliament in the legislative election at the weekend.

Borne, who was appointed only a month ago, said the result created an unusual situation that posed “a risk for our country”.

After five years of controlling the Assemblée Nationale, Macron now faces a challenge on delivering key policies, including raising the retirement age and a shake-up of the country’s benefits and welfare system. His government will need to seek alliances and compromises to push measures through.

Macron had insisted before the election that all ministers who lost their seats would have to stand down. Borne, who escaped having to resign by narrowly winning her Normandy constituency, said on Sunday night: “The situation is a risk for our country, given the challenges we have to face at the national and international level. We have to draw the consequences of this vote.

“We will be working from tomorrow to build a working majority, there is no alternative to this uniting to guarantee the stability of our country and continue with necessary reforms.

“We will open dialogue with the French … everywhere. I have confidence in our country, confidence in each of us and our sense of responsibility.”

It is an informal political tradition in France that the prime minister hands in their resignation after legislative elections and is then, in most cases, reappointed by the president. Borne, the second female prime minister in France, is expected to respect the convention described as a ‘courtesy resignation’. The question is whether Macron will reappoint her.

Borne’s office reportedly told RTL radio that her resignation was “an option on the table”.

Macron’s Ensemble alliance needed 289 seats for a majority in the Assemblée Nationale but won only 245.

The leftwing grouping Nupes, led by the hard-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon, took 131 seats but the biggest surprise was a historic surge in support for Marine Le Pen’s far-right, anti-immigration Rassemblement National (RN), which took 89 seats, beating the traditional right party Les Républicains (LR), which won 61.

The result means that to succeed, the government will be forced to move to the right to make alliances with LR and the centre-right Union des Démocrates et Indépendants (UDI). This has led to calls for Macron to bring back his first term PM Édouard Philippe.

“At this stage, if we start from the assumption that majorities can only be obtained with LR and UDI, there can only be a prime minister really from the right, in my view,” Jérémie Peltier, a director at the left-leaning Jean-Jaurès Foundation, said.

However, LR remains divided. Christian Jacob, the party’s president, said: “We campaigned as the opposition, we are the opposition, we will remain the opposition.”

Macron’s alliance remains the biggest grouping in parliament but it took significant losses in what the media called a “crushing defeat” and an “earthquake”. Political analysts deemed the results a “severe failure” for Macron’s alliance.

Alexis Corbière, the spokesperson of La France Insoumise (Unbowed France), the motor behind Nupes, said: “This is the first time under the fifth republic that a president of the republic finds himself in a minority in the national assembly. We are now the main opposition group.

“Élisabeth Borne has been sent off. She must leave, she no longer has the authority to be prime minister. Her fate is sealed,” Corbière told Sud Radio.

The far-right gains show that Le Pen’s party has expanded from its traditional heartlands in the Pas-de-Calais across a swathe of the north and north-east, and spread from its south-eastern base along the Mediterranean coast.

Significantly, the far right broke new ground in western France, with a rising party star, Edwige Diaz, 34, winning a seat in Gironde outside Bordeaux, in an area where the “gilets jaunes” (yellow jackets) anti-government protests were very strong. The party’s high number of seats will allow Le Pen, who was elected in the Pas-de-Calais area, to form a major parliamentary group and receive greater visibility and significant funding for her party, which is facing debts.

Le Pen gave a victorious speech from northern France, saying her party had won its greatest number of members of parliament in history. “We will be a firm opposition,” she said. Her interim party leader, Jordan Bardella, called it a “tsunami”.

Clémentine Autain, a close ally of Mélenchon, described the united left’s result as a “breakthrough”. The left’s Rachel Keke, a hotel housekeeper who led a strike for better pay and conditions at a Paris hotel, became the first cleaner to be elected to the French parliament.

Macron’s centrists insisted they had still come top, even if the mood at party headquarters was described as grim. “It’s a disappointing first place, but it’s a first place,” said Olivia Grégoire, a government spokesperson, on French TV.

She said the government would ally with “moderates” who wanted to “move things forward” but did not spell out how Macron’s grouping would avoid deadlock over legislation.

The economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, called the results a “democratic shock” which he defined by the big push of the far right. He said the results reflected the “big worries” of the French electorate but Macron’s policy plans could still be resumed as “work, security, Europe, climate”.

Le Maire said Macron was the only person to have the “democratic legitimacy” to decide that project and to reach out a hand to others in parliament to move forward. He said he did not believe there would be chaos in parliament and that the results were disappointing but not a defeat.

Macron, who was re-elected president in April over Le Pen, had pleaded for a “solid majority” in parliament in order to have a free hand to deliver domestic policy.

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