FRENCH ELECTIONS – MACRON’S PERSONAL TRIUMPH BUT RECORD ABSTENTIONS




Robert Harneis – TDO- (FRANCE) Emmanuel Macron, aged 39, has completed an amazing clean sweep of the main levers of governmental power in France. Unknown four years ago, by a combination of luck, sheer talent and a lot help from friends in the media, he has swept aside the established parties right across the board. Having elected him President, the French voters have now awarded him, and his movement En Marche, a majority of 308 seats and 42 seats for his Modem allies. Well above the minimum necessary of 288 seats for a clear majority.

At the same time, it is crystal clear that his difficulties are only just beginning. The level of abstention of 57.36% is unheard of, particularly when added to the 6.9% of blank votes. His party En Marche achieved its majority with lower votes than Hollande in 2012 and Sarkozy in 2007. In the first round of the presidential elections 48% of electors supported candidates strongly opposed to his pro-Europe, pro free market and pro globalization policies.

True the opposition is fragmented. True the Socialist party of François Holland has been pulverized from 331 seats to a pitiful 44 seats including allies. But the awkward fact remains that it is the very same Socialist party whose economic policy Macron himself largely shaped under François Hollande. And it is this very same economic policy that Macron is committed to pushing through, only more so. If the electorate has a collective mind it would seem that it is schizophrenic. When the voters wake up and realize what they have been seduced into voting for, their reaction may be violent.

At the same time, the electorate has treated more gently the Centre Right Republicans, who retain what in the circumstances is a respectable 137 seats down from 229 including allies. Logic (and the opinion polls) had it that the voters would prefer the original Macronist En Marche to the Republican copy, since their policies are similar. To a considerable extent they did not. So, there remains a substantial block in the assembly that, if it cannot stop the President, can make a big fuss if they don’t like what he is doing. But their opposition will never the less to a great extent be shadow boxing. The Republicans and Macron disagree about little and the Prime Minister Edouard Philippe was himself a Republican until a few weeks ago.

The real opposition will be provided by Marine Le Pen and Jean Luc Mélenchon newly arrived in the National Assembly with the support of 36 deputies who are bitterly and openly opposed to the EU as presently constituted. They are both radically opposed to Macron’s proposed labor reforms that are inspired not only by his free market ideology but Brussels as well. Mélenchon and the much denigrated Le Marine Le Pen, are ideologically poles apart and disagree about immigration in particular – Mélenchon is an internationalist - but they make up in quality and determination what they lack in numbers and unity. The irruption of these two robust orators into the National Assembly will be sure to raise the temperature of the debates more than a little.

Melenchon’s hard left France Insoumise (Unbowed France) has 29 seats including his Communist allies. The National Front has gone from 2 seats to 8. This is crushingly disappointing compared with what their vote in the presidential elections foreshadowed but even so it is an achievement under the French eliminatory first past the post electoral system.

As important, Le Pen’s less controversial rival and ally for the sovereigntist vote, Nicolas Dupont Aignan has been triumphantly reelected to his old constituency with a healthy 60% majority. He too has suffered from media attacks, notably for supporting Marine Le Pen in the second round of the presidential. Received opinion was that his electorate would banish him from parliament for such politically incorrect behavior. The electorate themselves took a different view.

The electorate have given Macron the tools to do the job he says needs doing. But they have taken steps to limit his room for maneuver. By their huge abstention they have clearly expressed their skepticism about this bright young thing and his economic solutions.

There remains one further hurdle in this electoral marathon. In September, the Senatorial elections take place to decide who sits in France’s second revising chamber. At present, there is a Republican majority. The electorate is made up of ‘grands électeurs’ who are basically the mayors and local and regional councilors of French local government. It is far from certain that they will give the President a majority. The Senate has great delaying powers and considerable influence on public opinion.

The next five political years in France will be nothing if not interesting.

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