France’s established parties faced up on Monday to the scale of the task of trying to win back public confidence after being routed in legislative elections that confirmed President Emmanuel Macron’s dominance of the political landscape.
The forces ranged against Mr Macron will be meagre and the new president will face little or no parliamentary opposition when he seeks to pass far-reaching reforms. Voter frustration may quickly ensue and the outcome of the elections will amplify the voices of those on the political extremes and on the streets, political analysts warn.
“This National Assembly is not representative of the country’s political forces,” says Luc Rouban, a political scientist at CNRS. “It’s potentially explosive. Opposition is likely to express itself outside parliament.”
The centre-left Socialist party was humiliated as voters sought revenge after the unpopular presidency of François Hollande. Securing only 44 of the 284 seats it previously held, its secretary-general Jean-Christophe Cambadelis — who lost his own Paris seat — summed up the party’s grim state of mind on Sunday night, saying the party’s demise was “irrevocable”.
The centre-right Republicans and their allies have emerged as the largest opposition group, with 137 seats. But it is a meagre consolation for a tally that is worse than in 1981, when Socialist president François Mitterrand won the presidency. It is also down from 199 seats in the previous assembly.
Alain Juppé, the mayor of Bordeaux, spelt out three challenges facing his party: its attitude towards the government; the renewal of its leadership; and its political line.
“It’s not a few lines on a simple blog that will find all the answers in the wake of heavy electoral defeats,” he wrote. “Let’s take some time.”
While both parties prepare for long inquests, a more immediate question is what kind of opposition they want to provide to Mr Macron — with analysts suggesting it will be mild.
“The Socialists will be torn between their desire to remain a centre-left party willing to govern and the need to exist as an opposition force, especially with a resurgent populist far-left,” Dominique Reynie, head of Fondapol, a think-tank, says. “Meanwhile it will be tough for the centre-right not to agree with Macron’s jobs bill.”
Soul-searching awaits the National Front too. Marine Le Pen, its leader and presidential candidate, won a seat in the house for the first time along with seven other FN executives. But the party fell short of the 15 seat threshold to be recognised as a parliamentary group and get speaking time and additional resources.
The far-right party is also dealing with internal friction — chiefly over Ms Le Pen’s choice to campaign on a platform of taking France out of the eurozone, now hailed as one of the main reasons for her failure in the presidential election.
“I would like this debate to take place with courtesy and camaraderie,” Ms Le Pen said on Monday. “We must ask ourselves the question of what has worked and what has worked less well.”
The clearest opposition force in parliament will probably be Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s far-left Unbowed France group, according to Mr Reynie. With 17 MPs, it can form a group and Mr Mélenchon, who will sit in the National Assembly for the first time, “will make his voice heard loudly as usual”, Mr Reynie says.
His voice will be heard on the streets, too, along with that of unions, convinced that the record 57 per cent abstention in legislative elections is evidence of a dormant hostility towards Mr Macron and his reforms, including a bill intended to make the jobs market more flexible.
The president has “no legitimacy to perpetrate a social coup”, Mr Mélenchon said on Sunday evening. “I see in this abstention an energy that is available if we know how to use it for our fight.”