After the first round of the French general election, on June 11, the order went out from the Elysée Palace to members of President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche (LRM): “Pas de triomphalisme” – no complacency nor gloating. Which is just as well, because while the party has secured a comfortable majority, it wasn’t quite the cake walk some were expecting. And a good thing too. The last thing French democracy needs right now is a single-party state.
After that first round, even the most conservative forecasters were predicting that LRM would reach 400 seats in the new National Assembly. Some even thought 450 might be on the cards. But, by a strange paradox, an even higher abstention rate in the second round (a 43% turnout, compared to 48% the week before) saw the final number drop back to what we thought before the first round. In the end, the alliance of LRM and François Bayrou’s Modem secured about 359 of the Assembly’s 577 seats – comparable to the majority elected after Jacques Chirac’s victory in 2002.
Who won what?
The opposition is now made up of the right-wing party Les Républicains and its allies in the Union of Democrats and Independents. They secured 130 seats between them, and there are half-a-dozen non-aligned right-wing deputies who might well sign up to their group.
The Parti Socialiste (PS) and its allies have around 46 seats, while Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise (LFI) took about 17. The Communists, who will probably join LFI in a parliamentary group, have another ten.
After predictions of as few as two seats, the Front National has eight, including one for Marine Le Pen and for her partner Louis Aliot, both making their parliamentary débuts. Le Pen’s political right-hand man, Florian Philippot, however, will not be joining her, after failing to win a seat. Within the party, the witch hunt against him and his gang will now begin in earnest.
Right across the board, the opposition performed to the best of their ability and as the results came in on Sunday night, Mélenchon, Le Pen and LR leader François Baroin all looked remarkably relaxed and relieved.
But Baroin now faces a difficult choice. The lines are being drawn for the contest over the party leadership that will follow in the autumn. Already we know that Xavier Bertrand, a more moderate figure within the party, and Laurent Wauquiez, who pushes a much tougher, hard-right line, plan to stand. Baroin may opt out of that confrontation.
Le Pen will look back on the wreckage of her presidential campaign, take stock and prepare for the the FN’s “refounding” congress, slated for early next year.
Mélenchon is perhaps the best placed. He secured himself a platform in the new Assembly, where he will probably chair his parliamentary group, a role that will allow him a say in the organisation of the chamber’s timetable. Le Pen will not enjoy that privilege because she fell short of the 15-seat threshold for group status (that won’t stop her complaining about being a victim of the system, of course).
The class of 2017
This is a new National Assembly in so many ways. A great deal has been made of the fact that half LRM’s candidates are “civilians”. In fact, Le Monde reckons that only 145 outgoing deputies of more than 300 seeking re-election have been returned and that 75% of the class of 2017 are new to the job. That carries with it all sorts of attendant issues.
It has long been apparent that the 2017 election would bring a large intake of inexperienced deputies. Some 216 outgoing members announced that they would not be standing again. In part this was down to the passing of a political generation, first elected in 1986 and 1988, but in other cases it is the consequence of the new law on the cumul des mandats, that rather quaint French practice whereby a deputy (or senator) often also holds local office.
A new law on the accumulation of elected offices recently came into effect, which prohibits members of parliament holding an executive position at local level at the same time (such as working as mayor, president of a departmental or regional assembly.) It is noticeable that several leading politicians, especially on the right, have opted to keep their local positions rather than to stay in parliament. For example, Bertrand and Wauquiez are both presidents of regional assemblies, while Baroin announced that he is standing down as a senator to remain mayor of the city of Troyes. The bases of political power are shifting as well as the party political landscape.
Meanwhile, LRM’s leaders in government and in parliament, face that enviable difficulty of managing a clear majority, but one with very little experience, while the new deputies will have to get up to speed with how the National Assembly works in double-quick time. And large majorities do have a tendency to become overconfident and even truculent – characteristics that Macron is not the sort of man to tolerate.
French politics remains in a fluid state for the time being. But at last Macron has his majority. Now the work begins.