June 19, 2017
Only a few months ago, political commentators were saying that it would be difficult for Emmanuel Macron to become President of France, and that in any case it would be near impossible for him to gain a majority in Parliament to enact his programme.
These predictions have been proved wrong and, according to the now official results of yesterday’s second round of the legislative elections, French citizens gave La République En Marche (LREM), President Macron’s new centrist movement, a clear majority of 348 seats.
These results represent a clear win for Emmanuel Macron. The scale of his party’s absolute majority shows the extent to which the new President, a newcomer to party politics, has managed to transform the French political landscape in record time. Sixteen months ago, his LREM movement did not even exist.
But the results are also tempered by a record-low turnout rate of 42.6% of registered voters, the lowest ever recorded in the history of France’s Fifth Republic. Abstention was particularly high in low-income areas, reopening the debate about France’s social divide.
The traditional right-wing and left-wing parties that have dominated parliament and government for decades have seen their presence in the Assemblée Nationale shrink significantly, confirming the redrawing of the French political landscape that began when the Socialists and Les Républicains lost the Presidential election.
The Parti Socialiste, previously in government has experienced a debacle, dropping from 295 deputies to 29. This election has truly been difficult for the party, with many leading figures not even making it to the second round, such as the Presidential candidate Benoit Hamon.
While representing the main group of the opposition, Les Républicains, the right-wing party, have lost close to half their seats. In addition, their campaign was beset by difficulties and division between two strands, the moderate wing which is willing to work with the President on some issues, and the conservative wing which intends to show strict opposition to the new government. There is now a risk that these two sides may split.
The far-right and far-left parties, respectively the Front National and La France Insoumise, have each only gained a small number of seats, despite having both achieved impressive scores in the Presidential election. Marine Le Pen’s party won 8 seats, up from 2 at the last election. Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s new movement won 17 seats. Both Le Pen and Mélenchon were personally elected and will therefore sit in the Assemblée Nationale.
LREM’s absolute majority can be explained by the combination of different events. First, it appears obvious that the general public wanted to give the President the means to implement his policies and programme.
The results also highlight a profound wish for renewal expressed by French citizens. Three quarters of the new parliamentarians are people who have never sat in the Assemblée Nationale before. The new parliament comprises 33% of women, up from less than 20% before the elections. Moreover, 50% of LREM candidates come from civil society. They are drawn from diverse fields such as academia, business or local activism and are virtually unknown to the general public. They include a mathematician, a former head of special forces, nurses and doctors.
Politically, the results are strengthening the new President and will help him implement his programme. The clear majority will give Macron relatively free rein to implement his plans to reform France’s economy and change France’s labour law.
President Macron’s prime minister, Edouard Philippe, said: “There is a strong majority, there’s a will for things to change.” However, he noted that low turnout meant the government had “an ardent obligation to succeed.”