It says much about the extraordinary rise of Emmanuel Macron that some commentators are describing the outcome of Sunday’s second round of voting in the parliamentary elections as something of a disappointment for the new president.
His La République en Marche [LREM] party won an estimated 359 of the 577 seats in the National Assembly, some way short of predictions last week that forecast his fledging party could finish with as many as 450. Then again, it’s the biggest majority in the Assembly since the 1968 elections and the result also confirms the destruction of the Socialist party and the disarray of the Republicians.
The former picked up only 46 seats – down from 295 in the 2012 elections – while the centre-right party and their coalition partners finished with 126. While that number is better than predicted – some polls had suggested they would struggle to hit three figures – it is still 99 fewer seats than the Republicains managed five years ago.
Elsewhere, Jean-Luc Melenchon’s far-left party, Unsubmissive France, won 26 seats, and the National Front will have eight MPs, including Marine Le Pen. The far-right leader was elected in the northern town of Henin- Beaumont but her joy at finally making it to parliament will be tempered by the poor performance of her party. Only a few weeks ago it was predicted that the FN could win as many as 40 seats on the back of Le Pen reaching the second round of the presidential election, but internal divisions within the party have surfaced in the last month, and the failure of Le Pen’s vice-president, Florian Philippot, to win a seat in parliament will be welcomed by many within the FN.
Philippot is one of several high-profile politicians waking up this morning wondering where to go from here. Two former members of the Socialist government, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem and Myriam El Khomri, failed to retain their seats, and there was also disappointment for Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, the centre-right MP who was beaten by her LREM rival in Paris.
Their defeat illustrates the dramatic change in the political landscape of France. In the space of fourteen months Macron has pulled off arguably the most extraordinary political result in modern times, becoming president at the age of 39 and winning a comprehensive parliamentary majority with a party composed of political novices. His prime minister, Edouard Philippe, described the result as one of ‘hope over anger’ and therein lies the biggest threat to Macron’s presidency.
As one newspaper noted last week, since his election Macron has been likened in the world’s media to Jesus, Jupiter and Louis XIV but the fact remains he has the support of relatively few French people. The 2017 parliamentary elections were the first in the history of the 5th Republic in which turnout was below 50 percent for both rounds, and in Sunday’s second round only 43 percent of the population went to the booth; as France24 points out ‘this means the 42 percent of votes won by LREM candidates account for less than 20 percent of registered voters’.
Macron has become president by a combination of factors; he grasped the disenchantment of the French people with the established political class before anyone else, but he also benefited from the misfortune of his rivals – notably Manuel Valls and Francois Fillon – and the incompetence of Marine Le Pen, who campaigned on the wrong issues and was exposed in that extraordinary final debate as aggressive and inept.
Macron has swept all before him but now he must show the French that he is more than just a brilliant mind who knows how to market himself. He has his majority to push through all his ambitious reforms and he must make good his promise to revive the French nation. If he doesn’t, the hope of which his Prime Minister talked will quickly turn to anger.