'What do we do?': A win for left. Blow for right. Macron stuck. France's vote explained (2024)

Kim HjelmgaardUSA TODAY

"The slap," "It's crazy," "And now, what do we do?" − those were some of Monday's headlines from French newspapers after a gamble by President Emmanuel Macron ended in deadlock and a leadership crisis.

Macron's gamble had been to call a snap parliamentary election aimed at keeping ascending right-wing political forces in his country at bay.

But in a surprise, the vote dealt a blow to Marine Le Pen's anti-immigration, European Union-sceptic National Rally party. Official tallies showed it was pushed to an unexpected third-place finish behind Macron's centrist Ensemble coalition, which came in second. A bloc of leftist parties known as the New Popular Front, with Jean-Luc Mélenchon as its figurehead, defied polls and political experts to win the most seats in France's 577-seat National Assembly.

Macron's role as president is safe

Macron's role as president is safe. It was never in doubt. His tenure does not expire before 2027. France splits its political executive function between president and prime minister, with defense and security the prerogative of the former and the latter typically concerned with domestic matters of state, such as education and immigration.

But because Sunday's outcome means no single party or alliance won an absolute majority of seats in the National Assembly, France now has what's known as a "hung" Parliament, a fragmented lawmaking body where it is difficult for any one party to achieve its political program. France's politics have been plunged into days, weeks or even months of paralysis as factions try to cobble together a governing coalition.

Is France a left-leaning country?

Left-wing parties won the most seats in the assembly. But it's not clear that, overall, France is a politically left country. Many of those seats were captured only as a result of so-called tactical voting by parties opposed to the Nationally Rally's right-wing policies: protectionist when it comes to trade and the economy, populist when it comes to reducing immigration, keen to restore what its see as France's lost "prestige" on the world stage.

The vote comes just 18 days before Paris hosts the Olympic Games.

The election was called by Macron after his party performed abysmally in European Union elections in June as the National Rally party picked up a large number of seats. Sunday's contest was chiefly about determining the political flavor of France's parliament. Surveys before the vote forecast that Le Pen's National Rally would win and be able to form a government, which in this context means choosing who would be prime minister, along with selecting a cabinet that would have to work with Macron but would not be beholden to his centrist political agenda.

Now, the country's politics are in, to use an overused phrase, uncharted territory.

France's current prime minister, Gabriel Attal from Macron's liberal centrist party, has already said he intends to resign. So he probably won't get or stay in the job for long. Macron asked Attal on Monday to stay in the role for the "stability of the country" for the "time being." Le Pen's far-right party didn't manage to win enough seats for her to appoint Jordan Bardella, 28, her charismatic and telegenic protégé who was, before the vote, seen as her prime-minister-in-waiting. Mélenchon, of the New Popular Front, has already claimed the prime minister role and said late Sunday that the "president must call on the New Popular Front to govern."

Bur Mélenchon's critics say he's a far-left firebrand who has come close to power in France before and each time has spooked financial markets. He opposes Macron on just about everything. He wants to lower, not raise, France's retirement age. Mélenchon wants to vastly expand government spending − on social welfare, on environmental protections, on health care. Macron, a former banker, is a pro-business reformer. French stock prices moved lower on Monday after it became clear no party won a clear governing majority.

"When it comes to economics, La France Insoumise (Mélenchon's party) is really extreme," said Jean-Yves Camus, a political scientist at the Paris-based French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs.

"It is too lenient on law and order, and on immigration. It's pro-Hamas, pro-Islam; foreign policy is also a problem and raises fears among France's half a million Jews," Camus said.

On Sunday night, the statue of "Marianne" in Place de la Republique was lit by celebratory fireworks by left-wing supporters. It is a national symbol of France, representing reason and liberty, the ideals of the republic.

Macron has yet to make any public remarks about the election's outcome. Marine Tondlier, a Green Party lawmaker whose party is a member of Mélenchon's New Popular Front coalition, said this needs to change.

"According to institutional logic," she said, "Macron should call on the New Popular Front to give him the name of a prime minister. Will he do so? Or will he not? As this president is always full of surprises, we shall see."

Still, Le Pen, who will almost certainly be the National Rally's presidential candidate in 2027, when Macron's term ends, said Sunday that not all was lost. Her party, she said, picked up seats and had sown seeds for the future.

"Our victory has been merely delayed," she said.

'What do we do?': A win for left. Blow for right. Macron stuck. France's vote explained (2024)


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