Susanne Mundschenk

Marine Le Pen is the big winner in France’s anti-Macron election

Marine Le Pen is the big winner in France's anti-Macron election
Marine Le Pen (Credit: Getty images)
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Emmanuel Macron has lost his absolute majority. The surprise winner was Marine Le Pen and her party, Rassemblement National, while the left alliance, Nupes, confirmed their place as the second-largest group, albeit with a less spectacular showing than the media and polls predicted. The latest results, as published by the interior ministry, counted 245 seats for Ensemble, 131 seats for Nupes, 89 seats for Le Pen's Rassemblement National and 61 seats for Les Républicains. The results are a disaster for Macron, and raise many questions about how he can govern with two extreme parties on the right and the left as the strongest opponents in the National Assembly.

This vote was seen as an anti-Macron vote. He was re-elected as president, but voters used the legislative ballot to clip his powers, either by abstaining or by voting for the candidates of the opposition on the left and the right. The centripetal force of his neither-left-nor-right campaign that delivered him an outright majority in 2017 reversed into a centrifugal force this time. Compared to 2017, he lost a third of the votes. With 245 seats, if confirmed, they won far less than predicted. No one around Macron seems to have been prepared for this massive loss.

What did not happen either is a landslide win of the left. If anything, there is further proof of a shift to the right. The non-aligned right got more votes than the left. There are some 160 seats for Les Républicains, Rassemblement National and assorted right-wingers in total, against 153 for Nupes and other left candidates.

Rassemblement National will be the largest opposition party, head-on-head with Jean-Luc Melenchon's La France Insoumise. This means that two extreme parties will lead the opposition in the assembly. With these three blocs, far-left, centre, and far-right, how should Macron debate, act, and govern? This will be the new test.

What about the left alliance? Will it hold together? Nupes will be the second-largest group in the assembly with 131 seats. It is a new, untested alliance of four parties on the left: La France Insoumise, Socialists, Greens, and the Communists. How effective their opposition will be will become clearer once their cohesion is tested on legislation where the four parties disagree. The Socialists and the Greens could create their own group if they were to disagree with the direction Nupes was taking. Time will tell if this young alliance will survive.

Marine Le Pen, meanwhile, emerges from these elections as the new political heavyweight in parliament, winning with 62 per cent in her constituency. Macron lost two of his strongmen, Richard Ferrand, president of the assembly, and Christophe Castaner, leader of Ensemble in the assembly. There are not many heavyweights left in Macron's party to replace them. The assembly will also no longer have Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who lost his seat in Marseille to another La France Insoumise candidate. It remains to be seen whether Le Pen will be as convincing in the assembly as she was on the campaign trail in towns and villages.

What explains this spectacular victory for Le Pen? None of the polls predicted this, most polls predicted 20-40 seats rather than 89. Some observers suggest that Ensemble and Nupes failed to support each other in constituencies where they ran against Rassemblement National. Macron's attempts to demonise the left alliance backfired: the left did not show up to support Ensemble against the far right, and vice versa.

What are the consequences for Macron's government? A reshuffle is certain. Many of his key lieutenants lost their seats, including ecology minister Amélie de Montchalin. Will Emmanuel Macron keep his prime minister Elisabeth Borne, who won with just 52.3 per cent in her Calvados constituency?

How can Macron govern with an assembly squeezed between two extremes? The results put Les Républicains, the traditional centre-right party, in the position of the kingmakers. With their 61 seats, they could give Macron the absolute majority he needs. But the party is reluctant. The leader, Christian Jacob, insisted that there will be no pact and that they will remain in the opposition. Other senior party figures have argued for weeks in favour of a pact. The appetite to save Macron’s skin may be low at this point, and there is a clear desire to rebuild Sarkozy's former party in opposition.

Alternatively, Ensemble could also secure support from those Socialists who refused to join Nupes. Or seek a bit of both, some to the left and to the right. What seems most likely is that Macron will reach out first to the conservatives and seek to ensure their support in one form or another. This is about haggling over the price. Les Républicains could perhaps rebuild their strength on the weakness of Ensemble.

But this is a new era in French politics. Macron set himself the task of learning how to listen to the French, but what they are saying is far less clear than before.