By: Annie Schoenfeldt
After an election cycle fraught with contention and uncertainty, the French rallied to choose their next president: Emmanuel Macron. The 39-year old, France’s youngest leader since Napoleon, emerged as a clear victor with almost two thirds of the vote. His victory over Marine Le Pen of the National Front marks a pivotal moment for France. The majority of voters rejected Le Pen’s firm nationalism and anti-immigration rhetoric, choosing instead Macron’s centrist vision for France. Now, in the wake of the election, Macron and his fledgling party face a test to this vision. Two rounds of elections in parliament, June 11 and 18, will determine the breadth of Macron’s power.
The next phase of the Macron presidency lies in securing a majority in Parliament. The French Parliament, or National Assembly, has a total of 577 seats. To win a majority, Macron’s party, En Marche, which is currently completely absent from the Assembly, must secure 289 spots. If Macron’s party falls short of the majority mark, it must work with the winning party, a situation that the French call “cohabitation.” Such a situation has occurred in the Fifth Republic three times before, but a 2000 amendment that made the presidential and parliamentary elections synchronous reduced its likelihood. The recent political climate, however, fosters a greater uncertainty. In the presidential election, France’s traditional party system was overshadowed. The political shakeup and introduction of Macron’s infantile party could create additional political instability.
A cohabitation could hobble Macron’s political goals. Campaign promises of cutting government spending and giving increased flexibility to employers may be difficult to fulfil if Macron must constantly fight an opposition party. Contention between the majority party and the president, if they are not the same, could render the leader of the Fifth Republic into little more than a lame duck.
Current polling, however, suggests that Macron’s centrist party Republique En Marche will meet its quota. Projections range from 280 to 300 seats for En Marche, followed by the center-right Les Republicains at 150-170 seats. The Socialists are expected to come in third, with 40-50 seats. National Front, the party of defeated far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, will likely garner 10-15 seats.
Candidates for En Marche embody Macron’s campaign promises to make representation more democratic. Over 19,000 French citizens applied to run to represent Macron’s party in parliament. Of those selected as candidates, about half are women and about half have never before run for political office. These are requirements set by Macron, who insists on gender parity as well as opportunity for those who come from outside the ranks of career politicians. In an effort to renew the traditional political system, Macron encouraged interested candidates to apply online for seats. In another attempt to push past the traditional boundaries, Macron explicitly made no promises to endorse any sitting members of parliament, even those who endorsed his party.
Macron’s move from political tradition in the election process reflects his overall efforts to distance himself from France’s two previous presidents, the left-wing Hollande and right-wing Sarkozy. His efforts to make the election process both transparent and democratic embody his campaign promises to act outside the existing political order. In order to come through on his campaign promises, however, Macron needs the support of a majority in parliament. His lofty goals – modernizing France’s labor code, reforming unemployment compensation, and equalizing retirement payments – will require strong backing in the face of almost certain resistance from a wide range of stakeholders. Time, and significant campaign efforts, will determine the makeup of parliament. After that, it will be up to Macron to deliver on his promise of change or succumb to the status quo.
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