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Four reasons why the French parliamentary elections matter

Electoral posters of a candidate in the upcoming parliamentary elections, in Marseille, France. AP Photo/Claude Paris

The 2017 French presidential election saw the victory of newcomer Emmanuel Macron. But the French aren’t done voting. Elections for the lower house of French Parliament, the National Assembly, will take place on June 11 and 18.

Here are four reasons you should be keeping an eye on these elections.

No majority, no agenda

First, it can make or break Macron’s agenda of reforming the labor market and bringing back growth to a morose French economy. The French Constitution grants extensive powers to the president. These include, for instance, the authority to dissolve the Parliament and nominate the prime minister (the head of the government), as well as broad control of defense and foreign policy.

But, the president must have the support of a majority in Parliament to govern, pass laws and implement his campaign agenda. Macron would still be able to shape French foreign policy, even without a majority in the Parliament, but he would have limited say over domestic policy.

Unpredictable election

A general view shows the National Assembly in Paris, France. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Second, this parliamentary election is unpredictable because of the French voting system.

The parliamentary election includes essentially 577 mini-contests – one for each district that represents an area of France – which take place over two rounds. A candidate can win outright in the first round if he or she receives more than 50 percent of the votes. If no one reaches that threshold, then there is a runoff in the second round with anyone whose score from the first round equaled at least 12.5 percent of registered voters.

Such an electoral system encourages preelection agreements between compatible parties, as well as deals between the two rounds. Thus, an eligible candidate might choose not to contest the second round to ensure the victory of an ally, or to block a rival.

Although the alliance supporting Macron has a very good shot at achieving a majority in Parliament, one cannot rule out two other outcomes that would be unfavorable to the new president. Another party or coalition could win a majority in the Parliament, which would be a major blow to Macron’s domestic agenda. Or, there could be a fragmented outcome, with no party or coalition able to achieve a majority.

Shifting political landscape

Third, regardless of the results, the election will signal a significant rearranging of the French political landscape and pose a challenge for major parties.

If Macron’s movement gains a majority, it will be a stunning development considering it came into existence only in April 2016. The two parties that have dominated French politics since 1958, the left-wing Parti Socialiste and the right-wing Les Républicains, are in disarray.

Les Républicains are divided and facing pressure from Macron, who poached several of their leading figures for his Cabinet, including Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire.

The Parti Socialiste, following the catastrophic showing of its candidate Benoit Hamon in the presidential elections (6.36 percent of the first round votes), is reeling and facing possible extinction.

Renewing the political class

Fourth, the election will bring in a needed influx of new faces to the French political class. Until this election, it was extremely common for French politicians to combine local and national offices, such as being both a local mayor and a member of the national Parliament. But this practice is now forbidden by a 2014 law, which gave three years for politicians to choose between a local and a national office.

Since that practice was widespread, it has led many to choose their local office over their seat in Parliament. Already 206 incumbents (or 36 percent of the total number of members of Parliament) have chosen not to run again in the election.

Macron’s movement has certainly tried to capitalize on this turnover trend when choosing its candidates. More than half of the candidates come from civil society and have never run for office, half of the candidates are women and only 5 percent are incumbent members of the Parliament.

Macron’s party may or may not gain a majority in the parliamentary election. And that majority may or may not be sufficient to enact much-needed reforms in France. But there is no doubt that the French political landscape will be dramatically different in the next five years.

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