Macron’s Gamble Leads to Uncertainty: French Election Results in Hung Parliament and Rising Far-Right Influence

Feature and Cover Macron's Gamble Leads to Uncertainty French Election Results in Hung Parliament and Rising Far Right Influence

On Sunday night, there was a sense of joy as French voters successfully kept the far right out of power. However, by Monday morning, the mood had shifted to uncertainty due to a hung parliament, fragile alliances, and the prospect of turbulent years ahead.

President Emmanuel Macron called for France’s snap parliamentary election to “clarify” the political situation. Yet, the shock second-round results left the political landscape more muddled than it had been in decades.

The left-wing New Popular Front (NFP) coalition’s surge foiled Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN) party, but French politics is now more disordered than it was before the vote.

A Shock Victory, But Not Decisive

After leading the first round of voting last Sunday, the RN was closer to power than ever before, nearly forming France’s first far-right government since the collaborationist Vichy regime of World War II. However, after a week of political bargaining, where over 200 left-wing and centrist candidates withdrew to avoid splitting the vote, the NFP – a coalition of various parties from the extreme left to the more moderate – emerged with the most seats in the second round.

The NFP won 182 seats in the National Assembly, making it the largest group in the 577-seat parliament. Macron’s centrist Ensemble alliance, trailing in a distant third in the first round, mounted a strong recovery to win 163 seats. Despite leading the first round, the RN and its allies secured 143 seats.

This does not mean the NFP “won” the election outright. Although it has the most seats, it fell short of the 289 seats needed for an absolute majority, resulting in a hung parliament. This outcome is more a victory for the “cordon sanitaire,” the principle that mainstream parties must unite to prevent the extreme right from taking office.

The Far Right: Kept at Bay, Yet Potent

The RN had anticipated a celebratory night with supporters expecting their long-taboo brand of anti-immigrant politics to gain the most seats in the French parliament. However, as results came in, the RN fell to third place. Jordan Bardella, the 28-year-old leader chosen by Le Pen to refresh the party’s image and purge it of its racist and antisemitic roots, was visibly frustrated. He criticized the “dangerous electoral deals” between the NFP and Ensemble that had “deprived the French people” of an RN-led government.

“By deciding to deliberately paralyze our institutions, Emmanuel Macron has now pushed the country towards uncertainty and instability,” Bardella said, calling the NFP an “alliance of dishonor.”

Despite the setback, the RN’s success should not be underestimated. In 2017, the RN won just eight seats. By 2022, it surged to 89 seats. In Sunday’s vote, it won 125, making it the largest individual party. This unity suggests the RN will remain a significant force in the next parliament, while the leftist coalition’s solidity remains untested.

Will the Left Remain United?

A month ago, the NFP did not exist. Now, it is the largest bloc in the French parliament and could potentially provide France with its next prime minister. The NFP chose its name to resurrect the original Popular Front that blocked the far right from gaining power in 1936, and Sunday’s results suggest it has done so again.

However, the longevity of this broad and potentially fractious coalition is uncertain. The hastily assembled NFP includes several parties: the far-left France Unbowed party, the Socialists, the green Ecologists, the center-left Place Publique, and others.

This diverse group does not speak with one voice. Each party celebrated the results at their own campaign events rather than together. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the populist France Unbowed leader, and Raphael Glucksmann, the more moderate leader of Place Publique, are barely on speaking terms.

Disagreements over economic and foreign policies could cause conflicts, as the NFP’s expansive spending plans – including raising the minimum wage, capping the price of certain foods and energy, and scrapping Macron’s pension reforms – clash with the European Union’s restrictive fiscal rules and France’s need to manage its ballooning deficit.

A Better Night for Macron Than Expected, But He Emerges Weakened

Macron once remarked that his thoughts are “too complex” for journalists. His decision to call a snap election three years earlier than necessary, with his party trailing in the polls, confused many political analysts, his closest allies, and French voters.

He announced the vote minutes after his party was trounced by the RN in last month’s European Parliament elections. Although European results do not directly affect domestic politics, Macron felt he could not ignore the voters’ message and wanted to clarify the political situation.

However, Sunday’s results suggest he achieved the opposite. Éduoard Philippe, France’s former prime minister and an ally of Macron, commented that what was “intended as a clarification has instead led to great vagueness.” Although Macron’s party recovered from the first round, it lost about 100 seats compared to the 2022 election.

Where Does France Go From Here?

Macron’s first decision is to appoint a new prime minister. He has delayed this process by declining Gabriel Attal’s resignation and asking him to remain in office for now.

Typically, the French president appoints a prime minister from the largest bloc in parliament. However, it is unclear which party within the NFP this will be. Mélenchon’s party won the most seats within the NFP, but Macron’s allies have repeatedly refused to work with France Unbowed, equating it to the RN in terms of extremism and unfitness to govern.

To reach a majority needed to pass laws, the NFP will likely have to form alliances with Ensemble, creating a coalition of coalitions that span a wide ideological spectrum. Finding common ground will be challenging, potentially leading to legislative gridlock. Without a clear majority, a minority government faces the risk of no-confidence votes soon, which could result in multiple governments succeeding each other.

One possible solution is a “technocratic” government, where Macron appoints ministers with no party affiliation to manage day-to-day affairs. However, these can seem undemocratic and may fuel populism. Italy’s experience, following the premiership of technocrat Mario Draghi and the subsequent election of its most far-right government since Benito Mussolini, serves as a cautionary tale. While France has avoided a far-right government for now, the RN threat remains significant.

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