Déferlement ou Ressac?

13 June 2022

The first round of the legislative elections yielded inconclusive results. The so-called “presidential” party, now named Ensemble!, could end up with a slim majority, but then again it may not. Jean-Luc Mélenchon will not be “elected” prime minister, but he has realized an exploit in uniting the left for the first time in decades. Marine Le Pen barely campaigned yet still achieved 19% and will for the first time have a parliamentary group in the Assembly. So everyone can claim a victory of sorts, except Eric Zemmour, who was eliminated, but it would be more accurate to say that all three major parties fell short of their expectations.

Macron, even if he ekes out a majority, will be beholden to his coalition partners, Modem and Horizons. Édouard Philippe in particular could drive a hard bargain on certain issues. If Ensemble! fails to achieve a majority, the president will have to bargain with either Les Républicains or La NUPES, which could prove interesting.

Mélenchon’s feat is miraculous, given where the parties of the left were a year ago, loudly denouncing one another and miles apart on major issues. They are still miles apart, but by sheer force of will and tactical acumen Mélenchon managed to pull them together long enough to nearly equal Ensemble!’s vote. But this result isn’t as impressive as it might appear. The total NUPES vote was roughly the same as the total vote for the left parties in the first round of the presidential and can’t compare with the total left vote in years past. Mélenchon hasn’t expanded the left; he’s merely consolidated it. And each of the NUPES’s constituent parties will have its own parliamentary group and thus the ability to hold out for its own agenda. Left unity may not outlast next week’s second round, despite Mélenchon’s call to his voters to déferler next Sunday.

Like Macron, Le Pen barely campaigned, but why would she? The RN has never been a party interested in policy or legislation. With Mélenchon ripping Macron at every opportunity, Le Pen could afford to take a vacation. If NUPES stymies whatever reforms Macron has in mind, or if a Macronist majority decides to go its own way without acknowledging the other forces in play, Le Pen stands to benefit from the protests, strikes, and other disruptions. This was not her moment, so she chose to sit it out.

Macron’s campaign of silence was a failure. His government of managers awaiting orders from the palace has not inspired confidence or enthusiasm, and Prime Minister Borne’s call to block la NUPES even in a two-way contest with the RN stretches the idea of a “republican front” beyond the breaking point.

In short, the new tripartite configuration of the party system that emerged from the presidential election has been confirmed, and the French don’t like it. 52 percent of them abstained from voting yesterday–a resounding statement of dissatisfaction. Ensemble!’s lackluster performance reaffirms the point that Macron was reelected without enthusiasm and without a mandate–which is hardly surprising, since he is also without a clear set of policies. He cannot govern as though he has been given carte blanche by the voters, but it’s not clear that he knows how to govern any other way–his Conseil National de Refondation notwithstanding. Expect turbulence ahead.

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