Emmanuel Macron’s centrist grouping has lost its absolute majority in parliament, amid gains by a new left alliance and a historic surge by the far right, according to projected results in Sunday’s election.
After five years of undisputed control of parliament, il recently re-elected Macron, who is known for his top-down approach to power, now enters his second term facing uncertainty over how he will deliver domestic policies, such as raising the retirement age and overhauling state benefits. His centrists will need to strike compromises and expand alliances in parliament to be able to push forward his proposals to cut taxes and shake up the welfare system.
Macron’s Ensemble (Insieme) remains the biggest grouping in parliament, but suffered significant losses in what the media called a “crushing defeat” and an “earthquake”. Political analysts deemed the results a “severe failure” for Macron’s centrist alliance, which missed the absolute majority by a large margin, in contrast to its landslide win five years ago.
Projections by Ipsos pollsters, based on partial results, showed that Macron’s centrists would win about 230 seats – much less than the 289 required for an absolute majority in the National Assembly.
A historic alliance of parties on the left, led by the hard-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s France Unbowed party with the Socialists and the Greens, seemed poised to become the largest opposition group, with about 149 seats.
But the most striking result of the night came for Le Pen’s far-right, anti-immigration National Rally party, which was forecast to increase its seats from eight in 2017 to about 85 – a historic high for a party that in the past has struggled to make gains in the first-past-the-post parliamentary voting system.
The far-right gains showed that Le Pen’s party had 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 Francia, with a rising party star, Edwige Diaz, 34, winning a seat in Gironde outside Bordeaux, in an area where the gilets jaunes anti-government protests had been 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," lei disse. Her interim party leader, Jordan Bardella, called it a “tsunami”.
Mélenchon’s France Unbowed party now leads a broader left coalition, known as the Nupes, or the New Popular Ecological and Social Union. Within the left alliance’s projected 149 seats, the Green party increased its showing to about 28 seats and the Socialists took about 22. Clémentine Autain, a close ally of Mélenchon, described the united left’s result as a “breakthrough”.
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 a 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, Europa, 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 against the far-right Le Pen, had pleaded for a “solid majority” in parliament in order to have a free hand to deliver domestic policy.
But his party, La République En Marche, which is soon to be renamed Renaissance, suffered several symbolic defeats as key figures in Macron’s circle were voted out. These included Christophe Castaner, the former head of Macron’s party in parliament. Richard Ferrand, an architect of Macron’s centrist movement and the former head of the French parliament, was ejected from his seat in Brittany.
The president’s party will now be more dependent than ever on its centrist allies, which include former prime minister Édouard Philippe’s new party, Orizzonti. The government could shift further right if it needs to court rightwing legislators.
Macron will be forced to reshuffle his government in the coming days, after the new health minister, Brigitte Bourguignon, was beaten by the far right in the north, and other ministers feared they could lose their seats. Il primo ministro, Elisabetta Borne, was elected in Normandy, but her result was closer than expected.
The election was marked by voter apathy, with less than 50% of the electorate turning out to vote.
The rightwing party Les Républicains, which was in power under Nicolas Sarkozy, suffered losses, but was still predicted to keep hold of about 78 seats. This was seen as a respectable showing after its catastrophic score in the presidential election, when its candidate, Valerie Pécresse, took less than 5%. The right and its centre-right allies, the UDI, could now be courted as potential parliamentary allies for the government.