PARIS – “The French have decided to give their new president a chance, and not leave any chance for his rivals,” declared Socialist Party secretary-general Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, who resigned as party leader two minutes after learning of his party’s worst-ever electoral showing on Sunday. Is this indeed so?
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The expected victory of Emmanuel Macron’s La Republique en Marche party in Sunday’s parliamentary elections seemed unequivocal, with the president enjoying an absolute majority in the National Assembly, with 355 of its 577 seats (62 percent). But the French also chose to strengthen Macron’s opposition, contrary to what pollsters predicted. Thus, although Macron will be able to pass all the laws necessary to implement the reforms he seeks, he doesn’t have the two-thirds majority needed to change the French Constitution or to pass laws without parliamentary debate.
In effect, the election results have something for almost everyone. The center-right Republican party can claim that it did better than expected, winning 125 seats, and its position as leader of the opposition is clear and unchallenged; as such it will not try to undermine the legitimacy of the vote despite the lowest voter turnout in French history, thus indirectly strengthening the status of Macron’s En Marche. En Marche will be able to control parliament even if it separates from the Democratic Movement led by Justice Minister Francois Bayrou, meaning Macron will not have to deal with those petty discipline problems that generally come with running a governing coalition.
The big losers Sunday night were the Socialist Party, whose entire leadership is expected to be replaced and which is close to economic and political bankruptcy, and the National Front, which will not win enough seats (15 are required) to be considered a parliamentary faction. It will not be able to submit bills, parliamentary queries, or no-confidence motions. Marine Le Pen will be sitting in the National Assembly for the first time, but her deputy and the author of her plan to drop the euro currency, Florian Philippot, won’t make it.
The National Front will apparently win seven or eight seats, which should spare Le Pen from having to resign, but won’t save her from being forced back to the marginal status the extreme right has had in France since the end of the 19th century, with less than 2 percent of parliament.
There are still questions that will only be answered when all the votes are tallied. Were all the ministers elected, enabling them to continue to serve? Did former Prime Minister Manuel Valls survive the joint attack by the National Front and the radical left against him? Will Jean-Luc Melenchon be able to enjoy faction status without his bitter enemies from the Communist party?
But beyond these specifics, there emerges a picture of an effective and comfortable coalition based on an economic and political platform that seems anachronistic to the West. Emmanuel Macron seems to have won his bet and has revived the political center in Europe. Politicians all over the world view him with astonishment; the French will follow him with high expectations, perhaps too high.