President Emmanuel Macron was on course to lose his majority in France’s National Assembly on Sunday night, after a strong showing in legislative elections by a left-green opposition alliance and a late surge from the extreme right.
Initial results and projections by polling agencies after voting stations closed showed that Macron’s centrist Ensemble (Together) alliance would fall well short of the 289 seats needed for a straight majority in the assembly, winning about 230 seats.
The left-green alliance formed by far-left politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon — the New Ecological and Social People’s Union (Nupes) — is set to become the main opposition party with about 150 seats.
Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National is the big surprise of the night and is forecast to win nearly 90 seats — more than 10 times as many as it did in the last legislative elections in 2017. The conservative Les Républicains and its partners are given about 80, better than expected.
If confirmed by the final results, the outcome means Macron will need to strike deals with other parties in the National Assembly to pass legislation over the next five years and his ministers will face a turbulent ride in parliamentary debates.
“I’m not going to hide the fact that these results, if confirmed, are far from what we were hoping for,” Gabriel Attal, Macron’s minister for public accounts, told TF1 television. “There’s no absolute majority for any other party either, so it’s something of an unprecedented situation.”
Mélenchon told his cheering supporters that Macron had suffered a “total defeat” and that his alliance was the new face of France’s historic “upwellings of rebellion and revolution”.
Jordan Bardella, current president of Le Pen’s Eurosceptic, anti-immigration Rassemblement National party, said the RN had made “a historic breakthrough”, while a smiling Le Pen said the French concerned about migrants, crime and injustice would now have a powerful group defending their interests in parliament.
Mélenchon’s Nupes — which includes the French Socialist, Communist and green parties as well as his own far-left La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) — will by convention hold the chair of the assembly’s crucial finance committee after replacing Les Republicains as the chief opposition party.
Macron’s Ensemble alliance nevertheless appears to have won more seats than any other in the assembly, which means the president will probably be spared an unproductive “cohabitation” with a government and prime minister imposed by a hostile parliamentary majority.
As president of the Fifth Republic established under Charles de Gaulle in 1958, he also retains control over national defence and foreign policy.
Macron and his prime minister Élisabeth Borne will, however, need to forge a coalition agreement or temporary deals with other parties — most likely the conservative LR — in order to pass new laws.
That includes the next round of Macron’s economic reforms, including his plan to simplify the costly pension system and increase the official retirement age to 65 from 62 today — a proposal that is bitterly opposed by the left and contested by leading trade unions.
In April, Macron beat Le Pen in the final round of the presidential election to become the first president in 20 years to win a second term. But it now looks very likely that he will also be the first since 2002 who has failed to secure a majority in the National Assembly after his own election.
The left claimed several scalps from Macron’s team, with Nupes candidates beating among others Christophe Castaner, a former interior minister who has been head of Macron’s party in the assembly, and Richard Ferrand, the assembly’s outgoing chair.
Some of Macron’s ministers are also likely to lose their jobs according to his rule that ministers who stand for election and lose must step down. Brigitte Bourguignon, health minister, lost by 56 votes to a far-right candidate in northern France. In one constituency in the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, Justine Benin, junior minister for the sea, was beaten by a leftwing rival.