Opposition Surge Weakens Macron’s Absolute Majority in French Parliament

PARIS — Voters in France’s legislative elections dealt President Emmanuel Macron a serious blow on Sunday as his centrist coalition lost its absolute majority in the lower house of Parliament to a resurgent far-right and a defiant alliance of left-wing parties, complicating his domestic agenda for his second term.

With nearly all votes counted, Mr. Macron’s centrist coalition had won at least 240 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly, the lower and more powerful house of Parliament. That was more than any other political group, but less than half of all the seats, and far less than the 350 seats Mr. Macron’s party and its allies won when he was first elected in 2017.

For the first time in 20 years, a newly elected president failed to muster an absolute majority in the National Assembly. It will not grind Mr. Macron’s domestic agenda to a complete halt, but will likely throw a large wrench into his ability to get bills passed — shifting power back to Parliament after a first term in which his top-down style of governing had mostly marginalized lawmakers.

Mr. Macron’s government will likely have to seek a coalition or build short-term alliances on bills, but it was unclear Sunday night how it might go about doing so.

The results were a sharp warning from French voters to Mr. Macron, who just months ago convincingly won re-election against Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader. “The Slap” was Monday’s headline on the front page of the left-leaning daily Libération.

Élisabeth Borne, Mr. Macron’s prime minister — who won her own race in Normandy — said on Sunday that the results were “unprecedented” and that “this situation constitutes a risk for our country, given the challenges we must face.”

“Starting tomorrow we will work on building a majority of action,” she said, suggesting, without giving details, that the government would work with other political parties to “build good compromises.”

Mr. Macron appeared disengaged from the parliamentary elections and did little campaigning himself, seeming more preoccupied by France’s diplomatic efforts to support Ukraine in its war against Russia — which Sunday’s results should not impact, as French presidents can conduct foreign policy mostly as they please.

Speaking on an airport tarmac before a trip to Eastern Europe that took him to Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, this past week, he had urged voters to give him a “solid majority” in the “superior interest of the nation.”

But many French voters chose instead to either stay home — only about 46 percent of the French electorate went to the ballot box, according to projections, the second-lowest participation level since 1958 — or to vote for Mr. Macron’s most radical opponents.

Several of Mr. Macron’s close allies or cabinet members who were running in the election lost their races, a stinging rebuke for the president, who had vowed that ministers who failed to win a seat would have to resign. Richard Ferrand, the president of the National Assembly, and Amélie de Montchalin, his minister for green transition, were both defeated.

“We disappointed a certain number of French people, the message is clear,” Olivia Grégoire, a spokeswoman for Mr. Macron’s government, told France 2 television on Sunday.

“It’s a disappointing first place, but it’s a first place nonetheless,” she said, adding that Mr. Macron’s coalition would work in Parliament with “all those who want to move the country forward.”

Preliminary results gave the alliance of left-wing parties — which includes the hard-left France Unbowed party, the Socialists, Greens and Communists, and is led by the leftist veteran Jean-Luc Mélenchon — at least 124 seats, making it the biggest opposition force in the National Assembly. The National Rally, Ms. Le Pen’s far-right party, was expected to secure at least 89 seats, a historic record.

Étienne Ollion, a sociologist teaching at École Polytechnique, said Sunday’s results were “a double surprise.”

“It’s the absence of an absolute majority — we saw it coming but did not expect it to be at that level — and on the other hand it’s the strong breakthrough of the National Rally, which is quite spectacular,” he said.

With a slim relative majority — the smallest in France’s 63-year-old Fifth Republic, according to Mr. Ollion — and a strong opposition on the left and on the far-right, Mr. Macron’s centrist coalition could struggle to pass bills, potentially forcing him to reach across the aisle to opposing lawmakers on some votes.

“The way the president will be able to govern through his prime minister is rather uncertain at the moment,” Mr. Ollion said.

It was not immediately clear what other allies Mr. Macron’s coalition might find to form a working majority, although it seemed that the most likely fit would be Les Républicains, the mainstream conservative party, which was expected to win a little over 60 seats.

Mr. Macron will also be much more dependent on his centrist allies than he was during his first term, especially to pass contentious projects like his plan to raise the legal age of retirement to 65 from 62. That could give more leverage to parties like Horizons, a center-right group founded by Mr. Macron’s former prime minister, Édouard Philippe, who is more of a fiscal hawk. Horizons is expected to win about 25 seats.

“We are used to seeing France’s system as centered on the presidency” because it is the most powerful political office in the country, said Olivier Rozenberg, an associate professor at Sciences Po in Paris. But “these legislative elections remind us that our political system is also a parliamentary one at heart.”

Mr. Mélenchon and Ms. Le Pen both said on Sunday that they had succeeded in disrupting Mr. Macron’s second term.

“The presidential party’s defeat is complete,” Mr. Mélenchon told cheering supporters in Paris. “We reached the political objective that we had set for ourselves.”

Mr. Mélenchon failed to achieve his initial goal, which was to seize control of the National Assembly and force Mr. Macron to appoint him prime minister. Major policy differences among coalition members on issues like the European Union could also resurface once the lower house reconvenes later this month.

Still, it was a strong showing for left-wing parties that had been largely written off as hopelessly divided during the presidential elections.

At the other end of the political spectrum, Ms. Le Pen’s National Rally was projected to secure far more seats than the handful it has now, and far more than was expected after Ms. Le Pen was defeated by Mr. Macron in the presidential election in April, and then ran a lackluster campaign for the parliamentary one.

Ms. Le Pen herself was handily re-elected to her seat in a district in northern France.

“This group will be by far the largest in the history of our political family,” she said in a speech on Sunday, promising her supporters that she would defend the party’s hard line on immigration and security.

Mr. Macron’s predicament is not unique in modern French history. In 1988, under President François Mitterrand, the Socialist Party was also unable to muster an absolute majority in the National Assembly, forcing it to occasionally poach lawmakers on the left or on the right to pass bills. But that government also had access to tools — like the ability to force a bill through without a ballot, by exposing the government to a confidence vote — that are now far more restricted.

Sunday’s vote was also marred by record low turnout, a warning sign for Mr. Macron, who has promised to rule closer to the people for his second term, and a testament to voters’ growing disaffection with French politics.

“There is a representation problem,” said Aude Leroux, 44, who lives in Amiens, Mr. Macron’s hometown in northern France, and shunned the ballot box on Sunday.

Ms. Leroux, who was heading over to clothing stalls in one of Amiens’ large open-air markets, said she felt like “the most important matter is already settled,” with the end of the presidential race.

But Sunday’s result may prove her wrong, as Mr. Macron could be forced into making compromises to pass bills and as opposition forces are expected to control key committees, such as the powerful finance committee that oversees the state budget.

“Incredible opportunities will come your way,” Mr. Mélenchon told his leftist lawmakers on Sunday. “You have at your disposal a magnificent fighting tool.”

Adèle Cordonniercontributed reporting from Amiens.

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