Parliamentary elections could be a big stress test for the re-elected President
Two weeks ago Emmanuel Macron was staring at the possibility of defeat. Yesterday, he vanquished Marine Le Pen by over 17 points – 58.8% to 41.2%.
How on Earth did that happen? There are two answers to that question.
First, Le Pen was never really in with much chance of becoming President. The narrowing of the polls in Round One was real but Le Pen — more extreme than she pretended and a long-time Vladimir Putin fancier – was always likely to fail the true presidential stress-test of Round Two.
Second, Macron finally started to campaign energetically after floating through Round One preoccupied by the war in Ukraine. He shifted enough towards the Left and the Greens to win the extra votes he needed — and more than he needed. He ignored advice from his campaign managers and made a frontal attack on Le Pen in their televised debate on Wednesday.
His victory yesterday was, in many ways, an extraordinary achievement. It was also less comprehensive than it seemed.
It was extraordinary because he was re-elected and the French tend not to give their leaders a second opportunity. Macron is the first French president to be re-elected for two decades. He is the first president to be re-elected in the Fifth Republic (i.e. since 1965) without having first lost de facto power in a parliamentary election.
He achieved that after the most troubled term of any modern French leader. The revolt of the Gilets Jaunes (yellow vests) gave way to the Covid pandemic which collided with the Ukraine war.
Macron is detested by many people in France. He is a favourite bugbear of the Right in the UK. He is not the revolutionary in a suit that he claimed to be in 2017. But he has constructed a robust personal following for the defence, and gradual reform, of the tolerant, liberal, pro-European, French status quo — which is not a glorious success nor the basket-case that some in France claim.
And yet Macron’s triumph yesterday is less comprehensive than a 58.8% to 41.2% victory suggests. More than half his votes came from a scattered, radical and green French Left that dislikes or despises him but fears Lepennist nationalist-populism even more.
French politics has split into three almost equal camps of Left, pro-European centre and the nationalist Right. The traditional, “governing” parties of centre-Left and centre-Right have fallen into the cracks between these tripartite, contending forces. They managed less than 7% of the vote between them in Round One.
Some voters and politicians of both old governing parties have been absorbed in Macron’s centre. Others are looking for new homes on the extremes.
The next big test for this new electoral geology will be the parliamentary elections on 12 and 19 June. Unless Macron’s centrist party and its allies can win a new majority, the President’s victory yesterday will be pretty meaningless.
The hard-Left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon hopes to unite the 32% of voters who supported the Left in Round One of the presidential election (many of whom voted unwillingly for Macron yesterday).
He thinks he can win a majority and force Macron to appoint him Prime Minister. Can he? I doubt it.
Marine Le Pen’s far-Right rival, Éric Zemmour, hopes to unite the 32% of first round voters who voted for nationalist-populist anti-EU candidates in Round One. He thinks he can win an anti-Macron parliamentary majority of the Right. This is very unlikely.
Macron, meanwhile, will try to lead the 32% of voters who supported him or other status quo candidates on 10 April to a majority of National assembly seats on 19 June.
The French electorate is perverse but has never been so perverse as to deny a newly elected President the capacity to govern.
It is going to be a close-run thing. Deadlock is possible. Yesterday’s victory — extraordinary though it was — may not taste sweet for long. But I believe that Macron will win narrowly again in June.