France’s legislative election: The vote that can change everything

France’s legislative election: The vote that can change everything

Sunday night’s vote isn’t the only one to watch in France. The French presidential elections will result in a unique situation in which it will be uncertain whether the newly elected head of state will benefit from a parliamentary majority. The June 2017 legislative elections have the potential to lead to a major political shift in France.

Centrist Emmanuel Macron will face off nationalist Marine Le Pen in the second round of the French presidential election on Sunday, May 7th. As the political tension builds, candidates and media commentators are increasingly defining the upcoming poll as a key bout between rival and opposing world views. Macron En Marche! movement is a staunch defender of a globalist and free market approach. Meanwhile Le Pen’s Front National (FN) has positioned itself as a key nationalist and anti-EU political force in France and in Europe. Current indicators suggest that Macron is likely to win, mainly due to the widespread support his movement will received from centre-right and centre-left voters opposed to Le Pen’s agenda.

While on May 8th France will have a new president, the country is expected to remain heavily fractured due to the political fault lines that have been highlighted throughout the campaign. As such, the upcoming legislative elections that will take place on June 11th and 18th will hold a particularly important place for France’s political future. Traditionally called the “third round of the presidential election”, the legislative polls lead to a new parliamentary majority. French voters generally tend to favour the party of the freshly elected president. However, the 2017 presidential elections have seen the downfall of the candidates representing the two main parliamentary forces: Benoit Hamon of the Parti Socialiste and Francois Fillon of Les Republicains. The outcome of the legislative elections will potentially shape the upcoming president’s term and probably usher in a substantial reconfiguration of the French political landscape.

A unique scenario

The April 23rd ,polls generated a result unique in the French political history of the last 40 years. A candidate, Emmanuel Macron, without a structured political party reached the second round while his opponent, Marine Le Pen, heads a party with only two seats in National Assembly (lower house) and no elected members in the Senate (upper house).

This situation leads to a substantial political issue as there is a realistic possibility that neither of the two candidates may have a parliamentary majority to govern the country. While France’s constitution provides the president with substantial institutional powers, the scenario that would see a president lacking a parliamentary majority aligned with his or her agenda would strongly hinder the overall capacity of the Head of State to push forward any planned reforms.

While current forecast show that Macron will probably win the presidential elections, it is still unclear whether his En Marche! movement will be able to translate the momentum generated with the May 7th victory into a Parliamentary majority. A key campaign promise of Macron has been to present members of the civil society for the legislative elections. This may prove insufficient to obtain the necessary 298 seats to form a majority as En Marche! candidates will face well established local officials from Les Republicains and the Parti Socialiste.

The potential for a grand coalition

Both contenders are betting on the formation of a grand coalition following May’s presidential election. Macron plans to structure his parliamentary coalition along a centrist project based on a pro-EU and liberal agenda. This is already attracting dozens of officials of the Parti Socialiste’s centrist wing as well as a substantial amount of key representative of Les Republicains. However, Macron stated he would not seek direct inter-party alliances. The weakness of such a coalition lays on its uncertainty to appeal to the French electorate. Political tensions are likely to emerge within a centrist coalition once party rivalries are brought back due to diverging agendas pertaining to the implementation of socio-economic reforms. While Macron may be able to regroup a large number of supporters in his fight against Marine Le Pen, it is unclear whether the sole opposition to the FN will be sufficient to drive an En Marche! parliamentary campaign.

On the other hand, Le Pen aims at forming what she describe a “coalition of patriots” regrouping all those opposed to the EU. Her objective is to erase inter-party lines and attract far-left and right-wing officials. However, this plan is unlikely to garner the necessary traction due to the current strong party allegiances and an overall anti-FN mood throughout the French political spectrum.

The centre-right gamble

Les Republicains are in the process of carrying out a major political gamble. The centre-right party aims at joining forces with Macron for the presidential elections to defeat the FN in order to then run a campaign opposing En Marche! for the parliamentary polls. This is a highly risky strategy as it tends to discredit the party in the eyes of the conservative branch of its electorate. However, Francois Baroin, key senior official of Les Republicains, has openly stated that he would be ready to serve as Prime Minister following the June elections. This would result in an outright cohabitation between a President and a Prime Minister of different, and potentially rival political leanings.

Should Les Republicains be unable to secure a parliamentary majority following June elections, there is a realistic possibility that the movement may experience an internal crisis and face a potential split. This would lead to a rift between the centrist segments of the party mainly linked to Alain Juppe and the right-wing portion of the organisations. This scenario would greatly weaken the centre-right political force in France and have lasting impacts on the national political spectrum. Whatever happens, Sunday night isn’t the last we’ll hear of France in the coming weeks.

Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author

Riccardo Dugulin

Riccardo Dugulin is an analyst at Drum Cussac, a global business risk consultancy. He specializes in supporting international organizations and large corporations operating in emerging markets by providing them with critical risk management intelligence. His regions of expertise are the Near East, the Gulf, North Africa and Continental Europe. He previously worked as project manager for a French medical assistance company. He gained field experience in the Middle East having worked for leading think tanks in Dubai and Beirut. Riccardo holds a Master in International Affairs from the Sciences Po – Paris and a Bachelor in Middle Eastern Studies from the same university. Follow him on Twitter @RiccardoDugulin.