‘A real crisis of democracy’: France enters a political deadlock

Macron seeks allies in the National Assembly after his party loses its absolute majority in the legislature.

French President Emmanuel Macron shakes hands with First Secretary of the Socialist Party (PS) Olivier Faure
Macron shakes hands with First Secretary of the Socialist Party (PS) Olivier Faure [Mohammed Badra/Pool via Reuters]

Paris, France – In France, legislative elections are an opportunity for voters to give the president a strong majority in the country’s parliamentary body, the National Assembly, and thus a powerful political mandate.

But two months after President Emmanuel Macron was re-elected against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, the French did not turn out in overwhelming support of their president’s political party.

Just 46 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in the second round of legislative elections.

“Macron lost a lot of supporters which shows that it is a crisis of the heart,” Philippe Marlière, professor of French and European politics at University College London, told Al Jazeera.

Just 29 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted in the legislative elections and 36 percent of eligible voters with a total monthly household income of less than 1,200 euros ($1,266). In comparison, 66 percent of people more than 70 years old and 51 percent of high-income voters cast a ballot.

France’s legislative results are a significant setback for Macron. The president’s coalition, Together (Ensemble), fell 44 seats short of an absolute majority, winning 245 – down by more than 100 seats from his previous mandate. This is the first time in 20 years that a newly-elected (or re-elected) president failed to win an absolute majority.

Without an absolute majority, Macron may struggle to pass key domestic reforms, such as the controversial raise in retirement pension age from 62 to 65.


In his first term, Macron – nicknamed “Jupiter” by French media – was able to govern largely unopposed, but he now needs support from opposition lawmakers to pass legislation.

“There will be a re-adjustment towards bargaining with different political forces,” Rim-Sarah Alouane, PhD candidate and researcher in comparative law at the University Toulouse 1 Capitole, told Al Jazeera. “You need to find compromises, or you cannot pass legislation.”

Without a majority, the National Assembly could see total gridlock on key legislation. Macron faces challenges from both the newly-united left and the far right. The leader of conservative party The Republicans (Les Républicans) also affirmed that the party stands in opposition to Macron.

“There is no question of a pact, or a coalition, or an agreement of any form whatsoever,” Christian Jacob said after a council meeting of The Republicans on Monday.

Some of Macron’s parliamentary losses came from the left. In 2017, Macron’s party received some support from centre-left or moderate voters, but many of those voters either abstained or joined the united left.

In the 2017 elections, the left did not run under a united front, so votes were split among parties. But in 2022, the NUPES coalition, led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who took third place in the 2022 presidential election, presented a united opposition to Macron. The alliance won 131 seats.

‘Political, moral defeat’

Mélenchon called the elections a “political and moral defeat for Macron’s party”. Meanwhile, Marlière attributed Macron’s losses on the left to his politics and governing style.

“Since he was elected president, Macron has been drifting to the right economically, but also on cultural and political issues,” he told Al Jazeera.

It is unclear whether NUPES will be able to sustain an alliance in the National Assembly, or whether, now elected, the parties will proceed with their own agendas. Already, several have rejected Mélenchon’s proposal to form a single parliamentary group.

France’s far-right party, National Rally (Rassemblement National) had unprecedented success, winning 89 seats – an eleven-fold increase from the 8 seats held during Macron’s first term.

Marine Le Pen, the party’s leader and former presidential candidate, was reelected as a member of parliament in Pas-de-Calais with 61 percent of the vote. The far right is now the third largest group in the National Assembly.

Although Macron pledged to oppose the far right when he was elected in 2017, some of his politics have contributed to their success, according to Aurelien Mondon, senior lecturer and researcher on democracy, populism and racism at the University of Bath.

“He ended up mainstreaming a lot of their ideas, and also picked them as the alternative to the status quo. The status quo is so incredibly distrusted that it ended up playing right into the hands of Marine Le Pen,” Mondon told Al Jazeera.

For the legislative elections, Macron failed to stoke opposition against the far right.

When the NUPES were against National Rally candidates, 72 percent of Together! voters abstained from voting, while 16 percent voted for NUPES and 12 percent for National Rally, according to IPSOS data.

On the right, 58 percent of The Republicans voters abstained when it came to a vote between NUPES and National Rally, while 30 percent voted for National Rally and 12 percent for NUPES.

In previous elections, and as occurred in the recent presidential election, many voters chose to cast a ballot against the far-right candidate in the second round, regardless of the other candidate’s platform.

“This was a normal kind of thing to do in the past,” Mondon said. “This is a system of vote that should keep [the far right] out of the National Assembly.”

With 89 MPs, National Rally deputies will have more allotted speaking time during assembly meetings and more staff.

Although the far right does not have enough votes to create legislation on its own, the party will now receive 10 million euros ($10.5m) in public funding annually – essentially double the previous mandate.

Some of these funds will likely go towards paying off the National Rally’s debts to Russian banks, including a 9-million-euro ($9.5m) debt to Russian bank First Czech-Russian Bank (FCBR).

Beyond the implications in the National Assembly, the biggest concern is the “symbolic power” and the affirmation for their supporters, according to Mondon.

“We’re likely to see emboldened actions against various communities that have been the target of far-right politics,” he said.

Finding compromise

To seek an absolute majority, Macron could dissolve the National Assembly and call for snap elections, but he is unlikely to do so.

“The results will be the same or even worse for Macron, and clearly this will bring more instability,” Alouane said.

The only other path forward is compromise. The Élysée announced that the president invited party leaders in the National Assembly to meet with him on Wednesday.

But to reach a strong majority, experts worry that Macron will reach too far towards the far right. On Monday, justice minister Éric Dupond-Moretti suggested that Macron’s party would be willing to “move forward together” with the National Rally to advance legislation.

“The idea of them bargaining with the far right is still on the table,” Alouane said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if indeed they find compromises with the far right.”

Despite the need for a majority, Macron’s party should be “uncompromising” with the far right, according to Mondon. The focus should be re-engaging with voters who have lost faith in the system.

“There are far more French people who are disconnected from politics than French voters who are voting for the far right. Abstention shows that there is a real crisis of democracy in France,” he said. “What we’ve seen this time around is the end of the Republican Front, and Macron has just buried what was left of it.”

Source: Al Jazeera