Allies of French President Emmanuel Macron started working Monday to cobble together a working parliamentary majority to salvage his second term, after his alliance crumbled in the election against surges from the left and far-right.
Macron’s Ensemble (Together) coalition emerged as the largest party in parliamentary elections but was dozens of seats short of keeping the parliamentary majority it had enjoyed for the last five years.
It will now begin work to try and find a majority by forming deals with other parties on the right, stirring up turmoil unprecedented in French politics in recent years.
Macron, 44, now also risks being distracted by domestic problems as he seeks to play a prominent role in putting an end to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and as a key statesman in the EU.
The election saw a new left-wing alliance make gains to become the main opposition, while the far-right under Marine Le Pen posted its best legislative performance in its history.
“This situation constitutes a risk for our country, given the challenges that we have to confront,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said in a televised statement Sunday, vowing: “We will work from tomorrow to build a working majority.”
The outcome severely tarnished Macron’s April presidential election victory when he defeated the far-right to be the first French president to win a second term in over two decades.
“It’s a turning point for his image of invincibility,” said Bruno Cautres, a researcher at the Centre for Political Research of Sciences Po.
The options available to Macron, who has yet to publicly comment on the result, range from seeking to form a new coalition alliance, passing legislation based on ad hoc agreements to even calling new elections.
Le Monde daily headlined on its website “Macron faces the risk of political paralysis”, while the right-wing Le Figaro daily said the results raised the spectre of a “stillborn new mandate”.
Left-leaning Liberation’s Monday edition said the results represented the “fall” of Macron’s way of governing.
“Failure of Macron”
The new left-wing coalition NUPES under 70-year-old hard-left figurehead Jean-Luc Melenchon won 135 seats, according to an AFP count based on the results published by the ministry.
The coalition, formed in May after the left splintered for April’s presidential elections, brings together Socialists, the hard left, Communists and greens.
Melenchon called Sunday’s results “above all an electoral failure” for Macron.
“The rout of the presidential party is total and there will be no majority” in parliament, he told cheering supporters in Paris.
A prominent MP from Melenchon’s party, Alexis Corbiere, said the result meant Macron’s plan to raise the French retirement age to 65 had been “sunk”.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party made huge gains and will send 89 MPs to the new parliament, making it the biggest rightwing force in parliament ahead of the traditional right The Republicans (LR).
Le Pen hailed the historic result for her party, saying it would send “by far” its highest number of MPs to the next National Assembly.
Macron had hoped to stamp his second term with an ambitious programme of tax cuts, welfare reform and raising the retirement age. All that is now in question.
“This will complicate the reforms… It will be much more difficult to govern,” said Dominique Rousseau, professor of law at Paris Pantheon-Sorbonne University.
There could now potentially be weeks of political deadlock as the president seeks to reach out to new parties.
The most likely option would be an alliance with the Republicans, the traditional party of the French right, which has 61 MPs.
LR president Christian Jacob however made clear there would be no easy partnership, saying his party intended to “stay in opposition”.
But other voices from the right appeared more open former right-wing minister Jean-Francois Cope said a “government pact is vital between Macron and LR to fight against the rise of extremes”.
Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire denied that France would be ungovernable but admitted “a lot of imagination would be needed” from the ruling party in an “unprecedented situation”.
“Three ministers felled”
In another blow to Macron, key ministers standing for election are set to lose their jobs under a convention that they should resign if they fail to win seats.
Health Minister Brigitte Bourguignon, Maritime Minister Justine Benin and Environment Minister Amelie de Montchalin — a pillar of Macron’s administration over the last years — all lost and will now exit the government.
Two other close Macron allies, parliament speaker Richard Ferrand and former interior minister Christophe Castaner, both acknowledged defeat in the fight for their seats.
In a rare spot of good news for the president, Europe Minister Clement Beaune and Public Service Minister Stanislas Guerini — both young pillars of his party — won tight battles for their seats.
On the left, Rachel Keke, a former cleaning lady who campaigned for better working conditions at her hotel, was also elected, defeating Macron’s former sports minister Roxana Maracineanu.
Turnout was low, with the abstention rate recorded at 53.77%, according to the interior ministry, higher than the first round but not beating the record worst turnout of 2017.