Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1350, (22 June - 5 July 2017)
Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Issue 1350, (22 June - 5 July 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Macron win in French elections

French President Emmanuel Macron’s République en Marche Party scored an impressive victory in this week’s parliamentary elections, writes David Tresilian in Paris

Macron win in French elections
Macron win in French elections

In a result that is being seen as a vote of confidence in French President Emmanuel Macron’s programme for social and economic reform in France, the République en Marche Party (REM — the Republic on the Move) was handed an impressive victory by voters in the second round of the country’s parliamentary elections on Sunday, winning 308 of the 577 seats in the Assemblée nationale, the lower house of the French parliament.

According to figures released by the Ministry of Interior in Paris after voting ended at 8pm on Sunday, Macron’s political party came out on top in constituencies across the country, pushing France’s traditional left and right-wing parties, the formerly ruling Socialist Party and the opposition mainstream right Républicains, into minority groupings in the parliament for the first time since the emergence of the country’s familiar bi-polar political system.

However, the result, though giving the REM an absolute majority in the Assemblée nationale bolstered by its allies in the MoDem Party which won a further 42 seats, has raised misgivings across the country, including within Macron’s own political grouping. Not only did Macron not win the landslide victory that the pollsters had predicted based on the results of the first round of the elections on 11 June, but the result was based on an historically low turn-out of some 43 per cent.

This means that fewer than one French voter in two voted in the elections and that many of the new MPs will have been elected on the basis of the votes of perhaps a quarter of those registered to vote.

When added to fears that the collapse of France’s former ruling parties has left a void in the heart of French politics that Macron’s movement, based apparently on little more than the charisma of the president, has appeared to fill, the widespread abstention has led some commentators to warn that the election could underline the disenchantment of the electorate with mainstream politics and the alienation of sections of the population from the political institutions.

According to the popular Paris daily Le Parisien, commenting on the results on Monday morning, “by voting for the extremes in the first round of the presidential elections [when both the mainstream right and the mainstream left candidates were eliminated] and now by their massive abstention in the second round of the parliamentary elections, French voters have expressed first their anger, and now their indifference, towards a political system that interests them less and less.”

For the left-wing daily Libération, also commenting on the results in its Monday morning edition, Macron, “the man from nowhere, is now everywhere,” having led his personal political party to victory in first the presidential and now the parliamentary elections.

However, the risk was, the paper said, that he would now make use of his absolute majority in the Assemblée nationale and the collapse in the mainstream left vote to abandon the hopes that many left-wing voters had invested in him, leaving significant sections of the population ignored and unrepresented in the political institutions.

For the establishment daily Le Monde, commenting on the first round of the parliamentary elections earlier in June when the prospect of an even larger REM victory was in evidence, the danger was that the party would now encounter “practically no opposition. The mainstream right is half as important as it was, the Socialist Party is dead, the Front National and the [extreme-left] La France insoumise [France in Revolt] have retreated massively from the results they scored in the presidential elections.”

While the REM had scored an impressive victory, Le Monde said, the party was “very far from representing large sections of the population… These parliamentary elections risk increasing another huge problem of our political system — its lack of representation.”

Many seats had been gained with very few votes as a result of massive abstention, and there was a danger that the new MPs would end up simply talking among themselves given that they came from the same social backgrounds, driving real contestation of government policy onto the streets.

Radical leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the La France insoumise Party and a candidate in the first round of the presidential elections in April, has described the new parliament as being unrepresentative of large parts of the population and as having been “wrongly elected”, urging his supporters to take to the streets in “resistance” to government plans to introduce economic reforms in a “social coup d’état”.

However, in commenting on the results of the second round of the elections Le Monde appeared to have changed its tune, saying on Monday that “the opposition, even if weakened, is alive and well in the new Assemblée nationale,” with the new government being held to account by “parliamentary groups that will fully discharge their role, though without being able to block legislation.”

The newspaper adopted an upbeat tone in its reporting of the results, saying that three-quarters of the new MPs had never been in parliament before and that French parliamentary life, notoriously middle-aged, white and masculine in the past, had now become younger and more diverse and included 40 per cent of women MPs.

It nevertheless warned that the historically unprecedented abstention rates in the elections were “not healthy”. No democracy “can tolerate for long seeing certain social classes, in this case the popular classes, and certain age groups, in this case young people, lurching from protest votes,” as happened in the first round of the presidential elections, to “long periods of abstention”, the newspaper said.

Other parties faring badly in Sunday’s elections included the extreme-right Front National Party, whose president, Marine Le Pen, fought Macron for the French presidency in the second round of the presidential elections in May. While Le Pen was herself elected to parliament, her party only gained eight seats in a result that is being seen as ending its ambitions of being a credible political party at the national level.

However, the real loser in Sunday’s elections was the former ruling Socialist Party, which saw its number of MPs reduced from 280 in the outgoing parliament to 30 in this one. This means that for the time being at least the Socialist Party has become irrelevant in French parliamentary politics, a remarkable result given the role it has played over recent decades and since the election of the first Socialist Party president of the French Fifth Republic, François Mitterrand, in 1981.

The mainstream right Républicains Party did slightly better than expected, winning 113 seats. While this means that it will be able to form an at least mildly effective opposition in the Assemblée nationale, where the signature of 58 MPs is required to present a motion of no confidence in the government and 60 are needed to appeal to the Conseil Constitutionnel which decides on the constitutional basis of legislation, many Républicains MPs are likely to support the new government’s programme, particularly on economic issues.

Macron and his government now find themselves in an ideal position to push through the legislation required to continue the programme of social and political reform on which he won the presidential elections, handing him the second part of a double mandate after his victory in the presidential elections in May.

Little has happened on a domestic political level in France since then as the country awaited the results of the parliamentary elections, but now Macron will presumably aim to continue the momentum that brought him to the presidency by pushing through his programme for change.

A déclaration de politique générale, or statement of government priorities, is expected on 4 July, being the French equivalent of the Queen’s speech in the UK. After that it is expected that the new parliament will debate a new law on the “moralisation of public life”, a flagship piece of legislation intended to defuse public anger about perceptions of widespread corruption in French politics, in the first two weeks of July.

This will be followed in the second week of July by a more controversial law to shift provisions designed to fight terrorism that are currently part of the emergency laws passed following the terrorist attacks that took place in Paris and Nice in January and November 2015 and July 2016 into the regular law, presumably ending the need for the state of emergency under which France is currently ruled to be renewed as it has been periodically since November 2015.

At the end of July it is expected that the parliament will vote on Macron’s controversial intention, stated but put on hold until after the parliamentary elections, to force through reforms to France’s employment law by decree without having to put the changes to a vote in parliament.

Under the former Socialist Party government of previous prime minister Manuel Valls, changes to the employment law that had met with widespread protests in the streets and filibustering in parliament were forced through without a vote under special powers.

Macron has already said that he intends to force through changes by ordonnance (decree) in order to short-circuit parliamentary debate, though the absolute majority the new government now has in parliament as a result of this week’s elections should mean that there is little risk of the government losing an important vote even if the proposals meet with opposition outside parliament from trades unions and others.

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