By Pierre Gugenheim
On June 11th, La République en Marche (LRM) and its leader, the centrist Emmanuel Macron, took a decisive step towards winning an absolute majority in the French National Assembly. With 32.3% of the expressed votes in the first round of the Legislative election, LRM is the leading party within ¾ of constituencies. Launched on the 26th of April 2016, the President’s political platform continues forward on its triumphal march.
Unprecedented perspectives in the Vth Republic
Given the solid winning possibility in all current ministers’ constituencies, the political tandem LRM-MoDem (Democratic Movement) is on its way to reaffirm May’s presidential plebiscite. LRM carried a margin of 16 points over Les Républicains (the right-wing party) in the first round. This has resulted in projections of the 2nd round granting LRM between 415 and 445 out of the 577 seats in the National Assembly; a historically large majority. The electoral system of the Vth Republic—a uninominal majority vote in two ballots—has helped to set in motion such a tsunami in parliament. However, the projected overwhelming victory is unprecedented in many dimensions.
LRM’s atypical progression in French politics might not depend solely on the agreeable public persona of its leader. Within one of the most politically disillusioned European countries, the central claims for political renewal have been actively addressed by the newly elected President. The alleged commitment to strict parity, the proportion of ‘civil society’ candidates, and a proposal on ‘morality in politics’ are key factors explaining LRM’s winning strategy. Some of its newcomers to politics are in good position to win, as the Fields medalist Cedric Villani and the ex-bullfighter Maria Sara. Ten years younger than the average age of current MPs, more socio-professionally diverse and very active on social media, and with one-third of those candidates owning their own business, these candidates offer something new and different.
After Macron’s already famous ‘Make our planet great again!’, the centrist government continues diverting American Republicans’ mottos. The Prime Minister Edouard Philippe commented on the announced landslide victory with a punchline to be remembered: ‘France is back!’ The second round on June 18th will tell us if his enthusiastic phrase gets a confirmation. Even the conservative 415-seats projection would allow the executive power to enjoy a unique degree of autonomy in dealing with a busy reformist agenda. Another accomplishment for LRM might also be the ? threshold in National Assembly, enabling winning votes on constitutional modifications.
Reshaping the landscape and clearing the map
The first round’s results confirm the defeat of traditional parties. Rightist Les Républicains based their entire campaign on the need for cohabitation to balance Macron’s political influence. They fell short in mobilising their electorate, destabilised by the shifting allegiance of former party seniors to Macron. Add to this intense bandwagoning, doubts on the changing leadership are endangering the party’s existence. On the other side, the leftist Parti Socialiste (PS) experienced similar dropouts. Ex-presidential candidate Benoit Hamon and the party secretary Jean-Christophe Cambadélis have both already been eliminated in their constituencies. They have become quintessential examples of PS’s constant shrinking.
All throughout the Vth Republic, the foremost role was given to these ‘parties of government’. Their leaders now appear as ageing dinosaurs in contrast to the unexpected centrist revolution. It is yet not clear which direction French politics is going to take. Marine Le Pen, the leader of Front National (FN, extreme right), interpreted the early legislative results as the ongoing absorption of PS and Les Républicains by the claimed ‘trans-partisan’ government. Yet a closer look at the ballots gives a contrasting view. The 1st round not only displayed the thwarted attempt from traditional parties to cut the losses, but also disappointing FN and France Insoumise (extreme left) electoral performances. Their respective scores of 13.1% and 11% and subsequent restricted projected seats undermine their contention to be the new opposition camps.
The new leading French party: Abstention
The early days of the presidential mandate are full of pitfalls—traps that do nothing for popularity. Despite this, Macron has managed to preserve a fragile state of grace and even widen the gap between him and his political rivals. However, it can not yet be said if LRM will avoid the trap of triumphalism. An inglorious record overshadowed Edouard Philippe’s ‘France is back!’ catchphrase: 51.3% of French citizens abstained from voting last Sunday. This makes ‘abstention’ the ‘leading French party’ by size. Now, questions are being raised about the legitimacy of next Sunday’s new national assembly.
Besides the low turnout, collateral damages of such a unique renewal in parliament might appear. Factors like the complete political inexperience of some candidates, the announced complex relations with the Senate, and questionable viability of the broad LRM coalition will all quickly get in the way of the French centrist party.
In the context of collapsing old formations and fickle populist parties’ electorate, the absence of solid counter-powers might be a foremost cause of concern. ‘Do not give the full powers’ was a common theme across oppositional parties’ campaigns. Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Melenchon, France Insoumise’s restless leader, also restated on 12th June a shared disapproval of current electoral system.
As “introducing a degree of proportional representation” was one of Macron’s campaign promises for democratic consolidation, the legitimacy of the new parliamentary composition will be limited. Further, this brings to question the role the National Assembly will play in this Macron era. The announced ‘Macron method’ of reforming through decrees and executive order has brought renewed criticism of such institutions. The upcoming round of elections will reveal if centrism will prevail regardless.
Featured Image Source: Pexels
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