Macron seeks to build support ahead of key parliamentary poll | European | News and current affairs from across the continent | DW

The French recently re-elected Emmanuel Macron as president, giving him a comfortable majority with 58.5% of the vote. But just weeks after the election, many citizens are reluctant to entrust the president with all the power of the state.

A survey recently published by the polling institute ifop shows that a newly forged broad alliance of the French left would currently win the first round of the legislative elections in June with 28% of the vote. The “Renaissance”, Macron’s new centrist party, and Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN) would come in second and third place.

It is mainly the French left that hopes to create the largest group in parliament, aiming for a so-called “cohabitation” – a rare political event in France when the president and the dominant group in parliament belong to different parties. In this circumstance, the president is forced to appoint a representative of the dominant parliamentary group as prime minister and govern with them.

Without a parliamentary and government majority, the president would then be forced to bury his reform programme. Macron’s plans for an overhaul of the French pension system with a gradual increase in the retirement age to 65, from the current 62, would for example be discarded.

“Macron would then again assume the symbolic function of president and try to exert as much influence as possible on certain processes,” Emmanuel Droit, professor of contemporary history at Sciences Po University in Strasbourg, told DW. “In this constellation, however, his power would be very limited.”

Democracy in crisis

But even a clear majority for the opposition in the first round would not guarantee a change of government, as elections in the 577 constituencies are by majority vote. If no candidate obtains an absolute majority in the first round, there is a second round of the best placed candidates. This makes predictions difficult.

Currently, both the National Rally and the left-wing populists of La France Insoumise (LFI) or the La France Insoumise Party around 70-year-old political veteran Jean-Luc Mélenchon are trying to capitalize on the widespread anger against Macron and turn the tide. legislative elections in four weeks in a “third round”.

Mélenchon narrowly loses to Marine le Pen in the first round of the presidential election

Both Le Pen and Mélenchon finished second and third respectively in the recently concluded two-round presidential election in April, leaving the rest of the candidates behind by a huge margin. France’s traditional center-right and center-left parties, the Republicans and the Socialist Party, achieved disastrous results, failing to even reach the 5% mark.

However, only the left-wing populist Mélenchon has a chance of becoming prime minister. Although Le Pen was able to garner more than 13 million votes in the presidential runoff and win in 30 regions, his party’s electoral prospects in June look bleak, in part due to a lack of suitable candidates.

This week, the RN’s acting party leader, Jordan Bardella, laid out modest goals, saying an entry into the National Assembly with a parliamentary complement of at least 15 MPs would be a success. Currently, the party has only five seats in parliament in addition to Le Pen’s.

Historic Left Alliance

Mélenchon, on the other hand, pulled off a political coup. An anti-NATO Euroskeptic and ardent critic of Germany, Melenchon forged a new, broader electoral alliance called the New Environmental and Social People’s Union (NUPES) with the French Socialist Party, the Communists and the Greens. It is a project that was considered utopian a few weeks ago.

The new alliance is fielding a single candidate in each of the 577 constituencies so that individual parties do not hog each other’s votes.

Melenchon himself does not tire of presenting himself as a future prime minister, promising a radical change in domestic and foreign policy. He is not in favor of constructive cooperation between France and the EU. And France’s traditionally close relationship with Berlin would also suffer under him, as Melenchon considers the Franco-German engine completely outdated.

Macron with Olaf Scholz

Macron’s first visit after his re-election was to Berlin to meet Chancellor Scholz

Emmanuel Droit affirms that there is currently a political dynamic in favor of Mélenchon which will mobilize a large number of voters on the left. This is a novelty in the history of modern France because until now many supporters of defeated presidential candidates have tended to stay away from the polls when parliament is elected a few weeks later. This electoral pattern in the past also ensured that the president had the majority he needed in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, to govern.

Difficult predictions

Despite the apparent increase in support for the French left, pollsters are not currently predicting a parliamentary majority for it. Mélenchon, who is not running for another term and is content to “make himself available” as Prime Minister, could win between 135 and 165 seats. That’s according to an analysis conducted this week by OpinionWay, a polling firm.

“Together”, the alliance around Macron’s party, on the other hand, would defend its parliamentary majority with 310 to 350 seats despite widespread criticism of the president and his pro-market policies. At least that’s the prediction four weeks from the election.

Emmanuel Droit also expects Macron to secure a majority in parliament for his unprecedented second and final term under the constitution. The majority voting system would mean that moderate politics would win out in the end.

“A Prime Minister Jean-Luc Mélenchon would like to say that the French could retire at 60. But people know that is not feasible. There are also reservations about his foreign policy program with his massive criticism of the EU and its proximity to autocratic states,” he said.

Does France need electoral reforms?

In day-to-day politics, parliament is unlikely to play a corrective role in controlling power over the next five years with a large Macronist majority – despite huge resistance to the president’s policies among the population.

“We have a crisis of representative democracy in France,” said Emmanuel Droit.

“Parties and unions no longer fulfill their role as political mediators. And that is why many politicians, not only from the ranks of the RN and LFI, but also from the presidential camp, are calling for electoral reform. key for that,” he said.

“The street is the only solution to protest”

Macron had already promised a “dose of proportional representation” after his first election five years ago and repeated the proposal during the current election campaign.

The president is under enormous pressure on the issue, but a quick decision is unlikely. On the other hand, it is foreseeable that the political opposition will take shape again in the streets during Macron’s second term. So did the Yellow Vest movement – ​​a protest movement against a fuel tax hike that turned into an outright revolt against the Macron government three and a half years ago.

A demonstration in Paris

Protests in France often turn violent and experts fear those angry at Macron’s policies will take to the streets

“Unfortunately, that’s what we fear will happen in the fall,” said Emmanuel Droit. “For many French people, the street is the last and only solution to express their protest. The French see the street as a place of democracy from below.”

This article was originally written in German.

Mary I. Bruner