After victory, Emmanuel Macron may face legislative gridlock

Supporters of French president-elect Emmanuel Macron reacting after the second round of the election.
Supporters of French president-elect Emmanuel Macron reacting after the second round of the election.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (BLOOMBERG) - Winning the French presidential vote may have been the easy part for Emmanuel Macron.

Now, the 39-year-old, who on Sunday (May 7) defeated the far right National Front's Marine Le Pen with a resounding 66 per cent of the vote, has five weeks to turn his year-old En Marche! - or On the Move! - political movement into a vehicle capable of winning a majority or at least garnering enough seats in parliament to govern or form a coalition.

Without that, Macron could find himself a figurehead from the get-go, incapable of putting into action his campaign promises of economic modernisation. That in turn might embolden populists who France has managed to keep at bay this time, but may not be able to again. The narrower margin of victory over the National Front compared with previous elections shows that parties that see France's central role in the European Union may not get many more chances.

"Macron's biggest challenge now is to win the battle for parliament," Dominique Reynie, politics professor at Sciences Po, said in an interview. "In the French system, if he doesn't have a majority he'd have only limited power, he'd become a constitutional monarch. If he has his own majority, he'd have all the powers which the Fifth Republic grants the president."

The French go back to the polls June 11 and 18 to elect their 577 members of parliament. Although every recent French presidential election has been followed by the winner's party going on to take control of parliament - necessary to name the Cabinet and pass laws - the outcome this time around has been made murky by Macron's lack of an established base.

"The idea since 1958 that whoever is elected president would have a governing majority is about to be shattered," said Nicolas Lebourg, a researcher in politics at the University of Montpellier. "Everything possible has happened so far in this election, and anything can happen. But it's pretty certain that it will be difficult for En Marche! to win a majority."


Macron, whose political movement was created just a year ago, is trying to put together his list of candidates for the legislative elections - a task he has complicated by pledging absolute gender parity and promising that half his candidates will come from outside political circles.

"I don't see a clear majority emerging," said Jerome Fourquet, head of the opinion department at pollsters Ifop. "We could be going toward an ungovernable situation. At best, En Marche! maybe could cobble together a workable majority with a number of smaller centrist parties."

Every French president since 1981 has come from the traditional parties - the Socialists or the center-right Gaullists, now renamed The Republicans. With the ouster of their candidates in the first round, they are in disarray as they go into the legislative elections.

The National Front has never done well in these elections, and the Communist-based Jean-Luc Melenchon, buoyed by his respectable fourth-place showing in the first round, is presenting a full slate of candidates through his France Unbowed party.


There's been only one partial poll so far about the parliamentary elections. OpinionWay said May 3 that En Marche! would win between 249 and 286 seats, the Republicans and their allies 200 to 215, the Socialists 28 to 43, the National Front 15 to 25, and the far left six to eight. But the poll only covered the 535 seats of mainland France, excluding the 42 remaining seats for Corsica, overseas departments, and French living overseas.

"Forecasting the outcome of the June legislative election is almost impossible at this stage," said Antonio Barroso, an analyst at Teneo Intelligence.

Macron has insisted that he expects to win a majority, and ruled out any alliances ahead of the parliamentary elections.

"The French are coherent," he said in an interview May 3 with newspaper Le Depeche. "I don't see why they would elect me and then weeks later vote against my project."


Trouble is, at least some of Macron's support in the Sunday vote came from people backing him as the default candidate to keep Le Pen out, rather than picking him for his program.

The last time a newly created party played a major role in a French legislative election was in 1958, when General Charles De Gaulle came out of retirement after the Fourth Republic collapsed, partly because it had been plagued by unsteady parliaments.

His Union for a New Republic won 189 out of the 466 seats, and even De Gaulle - routinely voted the greatest Frenchman of his century - had to cut deals with Christian Democrats and Socialists to govern.

Despite his bravado, Macron probably knows he'll likely have to accept a coalition, and has dropped hints he's willing, said Montpellier's Lebourg. 

"That's the idea of all his talk about taking the best people and ideas from both the left and the right," Lebourg said. "The French people wouldn't necessarily oppose a government of non-political technocrats."

The Socialist Party has indicated it's interested in an alliance with Macron, even if so far he has refused.

"If there are 577 Macron candidates, 577 Socialist candidates, and 577 Melenchon candidates, then it's simple: the Right wins," Socialist Party head Jean-Christophe Cambadelis said April 26 on France 2 television. "We open our arms to all progressives willing to work together." 


The Republicans are insisting they can win an outright majority, and their campaign manager Francois Baroin has said he's willing to be prime minister should they win.

"I am ready to lead the government," Baroin said. "We are in France, with a two-round system designed to create strong majorities. We are not in Germany with their coalitions."

With all the forces that manifested themselves in the first round - handing extreme parties on the right and the left more than 40 per cent of the vote - Macron may face an uphill task in forming a new government.

"If Emmanuel Macron wants to be able to govern, he will need a majority in the national assembly and it's far from certain that he will get one," said Yves Marie Cann, an analyst at pollster Elabe.