Democratic shock: French yorker for President Macron

National Assembly election, 2022

By Jan Arden

The second round of French legislative elections have taken place last Sunday and the outcome has sent the French political class and parties spinning, with the President bearing much of the blame directly, with his La République En Marche! (LREM) party and associates losing more than 100 seats from his comfortable majority of 2017. All elected Presidents, on the back of a presidential victory, are handed by the French electorate a legislative victory to enable them to apply their policies and campaign promises, choose their PM and run the country from the all-powerful Elysée nerve centre of power. Even Macron’s rapidly cobbled together LREM with some débauchages from the left and centre parties, benefiting from his youth and undoubted capacity to argue his views, was handed a clear absolute majority in 2017 that has this week tumbled from grace.

Obviously, the French political system is a product of its own history, culture and traditions, with a rather uniquely centralising Fifth Republic power nexus residing in the Elysée from where most policies and affairs of state are decided with the selected and appointed PM and a cabinet (largely hand-picked by the President himself), charged with the task of implementing them and, should political reasons so dictate, be ever ready to vacate his or her office as a convenient circuit-breaker. That power centre with its cohort of well-read but unelected advisors who step in, and frame policies and priorities can rapidly become a heady ego trip for many who have little idea of actual constituencies and their political realities or management.

Macron, like an agitated predecessor Sarkozy, became aloof, cut-off from the ordinary preoccupations of ordinary folk, and became perceived as smug and condescending throughout a first mandate marked by intense social agitations (the Gilets Jaunes movement), disquiet on several fronts (dwindling purchasing power, high fuel prices compared to EU neighbours, and outright resistance at his pension reform plans or public sector health plans and an aggravating housing situation) while the far right relentlessly bore into his immigration policies. Blithely ignoring these from his regal perch, while the Covid crisis made matters worse, seems to have engineered the French rebellion that took place quietly last Sunday.

The President and his “Macronie” style of superior governance, convinced that he would always win a second mandate against Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National (RN), did everything he could to keep the left and traditional right (Les Républicains — LR — the left-over Sarkozy party) parties under pressure. These entered the boulevards left gaping by Macronie’s insensitivity, focusing most of their campaign on populist measures to assuage large fractions of the working-class electorate. Jean-Luc Melenchon had the foresight to successfully cobble together around his party (La France Insoumise), the socialists and ecologist movement, and willy-nilly, even the communists under the common flag Nouvelle Union populaire écologique et sociale (NUPES) while the Marine Le Pen RN, successfully distanced from the sulphurous past images, neatly ignoring the sideswipes of her niece and Zemmour, stoked the popular classes to hand elitist Macron a “third round” of emasculation: in office but powerless, with no clear-cut majority in the National Assembly (LREM got some 234 elected MPs, a far cry from the 289 needed for an absolute majority). This is a totally unprecedented situation in a Fifth Republic that had to date been used to Presidential majorities or, at worse, an uneasy power-sharing cohabitation should Opponents be granted a clear legislative majority against the sitting President.

The President, and his bevy of close advisors, believing up till 48hrs before Sunday his Ministry of Interior ground reports were utterly convinced that his party would reach close to 300 seats or at the very worst a few seats short of the magic 289 number, and he sped off to a Kiev international photo-shoot, leaving a totally inexperienced newly appointed PM, Elisabeth Borne, to lead the electoral battles he had unknowingly already lost.

For French political watchers, with the Sunday seat distribution as follows:

Ensemble (ex LREM)                     246 MPs

NUPES                                                142

RN (Le Pen)                                      89

LR-UDI (ex Sarko party)             64

Other left                                           13

 President Macron has wrought about, through his own aloof and smug style, several historical firsts.

a) He is the first elected President to be handed a yorker, no legislative majority for his programs and policies, concocted during his first mandate, with little regard for French distress and popular discontent. Unable to represent himself again, he is already a walking shadow.

b) Several of his key ministers and close collaborators have bitten the dust and will be resigning shortly, forcing an impending cabinet reshuffle. 

  1. c) He and his party have brought parliamentarism back in force, when every policy and every decision will have to bargained either with the NUPES left or Sarkozy’s party on a case-by-case basis, a very uncomfortable position after he had treated both very dismissively during the legislative battle and a possible fore-runner to a culture of conjectural or opportunistic alliance and deal brokering.
  2. d) The left NUPES makes an unprecedented score on the basis of J-L Melenchon’s fiery personal charisma but will divide into separate Groups (15 MPs at least) to benefit from National Assembly privileges and speaking time for each component.
  3. e) The undoubted clear victor of Macronie has been Marine Le Pen, who had shed off her catastrophic anti-EU jibes of 2017 to run the gauntlet on social and economic distress, earning a historic entry of some 89 seats, a powerful bloc at the National Assembly, a presence in all regions and an undoubted platform for a renewed launch at the Presidential of 2027.
  4. f) Under some shock, President Macron has been unable as yet to address the French electorate or take stock of his alternatives for governance; he has limited manoeuvring room when all major parties have won their seats on an anti-Macron rhetoric. He will have to swallow hard and face the music from those he so regally dismissed for the past five years.
  5. g) In days to come, the Chair of the most powerful Commission des Finances has to be selected, obligatorily from a declared Opposition party, but the Constitution does not specify the largest, which means all three Opposition parties could put forward a name for secret ballot from which the ruling party traditionally abstains from voting. In which case NUPES may snatch the position from Marine Le Pen’s appetites.

Whatever we make of these elections from our shores, there may be some consequences around Europe, the G7 and in the rest of the world. Unless French chefs, chief among whom the President, find the words and acts to eat humble pie rapidly and come up with credible revamped general and social policies, France may be ushered into an era of instability with a diminished credibility for President Macron on the international scene, with particular regard to the ongoing Ukraine crisis. Such instability and a necessary refocus on internal discontent with many of his proposals, may not bode well in the medium-term for our major tourism inflows from France and Reunion. With our relationships already strained with the traditional western powers, and little more to expect realistically either from China, India or the Middle East, our margins and investing props to take Mauritius onto new levels of development may need revisiting.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 24 June 2022

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