French Elections Leave  Quel Désordre

The far right won the first round. The far left won the second. It's a mess.

CNN (“Leftist surge foils far right but French election ends in deadlock“):

A left-wing alliance has won the most seats in the French parliament after tactical voting in Sunday’s second round election thwarted Marine Le Pen’s far-right party, but France will be left in political limbo after no party came close to winning an absolute majority.

In a surprise result, the New Popular Front (NFP) – a cluster of several parties ranging from the far-left France Unbowed party to the more moderate Socialists and the Ecologists – won 182 seats in the National Assembly, making it the largest group but short of the 289 required for an absolute majority, according to the French Interior Ministry.

President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Ensemble alliance, which had slumped to a dismal third in the first round of voting last Sunday, mounted a strong recovery to win 163 seats. Despite leading after the first round of votes, Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN) party and its allies won 143 seats.

The RN’s strong showing in the first round stirred fears that France could be on the cusp of electing its first far-right government since the collaborationist Vichy regime of World War II. But Sunday’s results come as a huge upset and show French voters’ overwhelming desire to keep the far right from gaining power – even at the cost of a hung parliament.

After the first round, an unprecedented number of seats – over 300 – went to a three-way runoff between Ensemble, the NFP and the RN. By Tuesday, more than 200 centrist and left-wing candidates withdrew from the second round, in a bid to avoid splitting the vote.

Cheers rang out on the streets of Paris as the projection was published. Speaking to a crowd of his ecstatic supporters near Stalingrad square, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the firebrand leader of France Unbowed, said the results came as a “huge relief for the overwhelming majority of people in our country.”

“Our people have clearly rejected the worst-case scenario,” Mélenchon said. “A magnificent surge of civic mobilization has taken hold!”

Gabriel Attal, Macron’s protege, announced he would resign as prime minister Monday morning. He seemed to take a swipe at Macron’s decision to call the snap vote, saying he “didn’t choose” for France’s parliament to be dissolved.

Elsewhere in Paris, the buoyant atmosphere at a RN campaign event in Bois de Vincennes took a nosedive an hour before the polls closed. After the projection was announced, Jordan Bardella, the party’s 28-year-old leader, said France had been thrown into “uncertainty and instability.”

Handpicked as leader by Marine Le Pen in an effort to purge the party of its racist and antisemitic roots, Bardella had taken the party closer to the gates of power than ever before. Visibly disappointed by the results, he slammed the NFP as an “alliance of dishonor.”

“As from tomorrow, our deputies will take up their places to make sure we counter the migration policies and other policies of the far left. We will not enter into any kind of coalition or compromise, we will be the side of the French people,” he said.

POLITICO (“French left beats Le Pen’s far right in election shock“):

The left-wing alliance in France won the most seats in parliament in a dramatic election, dealing a surprise blow to the far-right party of Marine Le Pen.

In the first round of voting a week ago Le Pen’s National Rally came top and was aiming to secure the most seats in France’s legislature for the first time in the party’s history on Sunday. But tactical voting and collaboration between Le Pen’s opponents to keep her party out of power paid off, final results showed.

The election, however, looks set to throw the country into a period of political turmoil, with no single group coming close to winning enough seats for a majority in parliament.

[…]

After the first round of voting on June 30, Le Pen’s party was on course for its best ever election result and a majority in parliament.

But frantic political maneuvering in the days that followed saw Macron’s team and leaders of parties on the left muster their forces in a national effort to thwart the far right. Hundreds of candidates on the left and center of French politics pulled out of the contest to avoid splitting the anti-Le Pen vote.

Their initial aim was to stop Le Pen’s party winning an outright majority, which seemed a likely outcome a week ago. Instead their efforts handed the initiative to the other side of French politics, the left.

Attention will turn to who could become France’s next prime minister. Convention dictates that Macron will invite a politician from the largest grouping to take on the role. The president’s office said he would reflect on the results before taking “the necessary decisions.”

Reuters (“France faces coalition puzzle after left-wing surge“):

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday asked his prime minister to stay in the role for now, pending what will be difficult negotiations to form a new government after a surprise left-wing surge in elections that delivered a hung parliament.

The leftist New Popular Front (NFP) emerged as the dominant force in the National Assembly after Sunday’s election, thwarting Marine Le Pen’s quest to bring the far right to power.
However, with no single group securing a working majority, the outcome heralded a period of political volatility just before the Paris Olympics and raised uncertainty among investors about who would run the euro zone’s second largest economy.

“It’s not going to be simple, no, it’s not going to be easy, and no, it’s not going to be comfortable,” Green party leader Marine Tondelier told France Inter radio. “It’s going to take a bit of time.”

The range of possibilities include the NFP forming a minority government or the cobbling together of an unwieldy coalition of parties with almost no common ground.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, a centrist and close ally of Macron, tendered his resignation but the head of state rejected it.

“The President has asked Gabriel Attal to remain prime minister for the time being in order to ensure the country’s stability,” Macron’s office said in a statement.

[…]

The NFP, hastily assembled for this election in an attempt to unify the left-wing vote against the far right, has no single leader and did not say before the election who would be its pick for prime minister.

Tondelier, one of a number of NFP figures seen as potential candidates for the post, said on France Inter radio it could be someone from the hard-left France Unbowed party, the Greens or the Socialists, the three largest parties in the alliance.

But there appeared to be no consensus on big questions such as whether the bloc should seek support from other forces such as Macron’s centrists.

Olivier Faure, the Socialist leader, said on France Info radio that he expected the parties to agree on a plan this week, but sidestepped a question on whether the NFP would be prepared to negotiate a deal with Macron’s centrist camp.

France Unbowed’s firebrand leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, one of the most divisive figures in French politics, explicitly ruled out any deal with centrists on Sunday, and on Monday his ally Manuel Bompard sounded uncompromising.

“The president must appoint as prime minister someone from the New Popular Front to implement the NFP’s programme, the whole programme and nothing but the programme,” he said on France 2 television.

However, there is little chance that any of the left-wing bloc’s key proposals, which include raising the minimum wage, reversing Macron’s pension reform and capping the prices of key goods, would pass a parliamentary vote without some kind of agreement with lawmakers from outside the bloc.

Le Monde English (“French elections: Left-wing alliance comes out on top in unprecedented political landscape“):

Having won the most seats, the Nouveau Front Populaire now faces the challenge of negotiating with other political forces in order to convert its first place into a governing majority.

There were cries of joy, but each party in its own corner. Up until 8 pm on Sunday, July 7, no one on the left was predicting the Nouveau Front Populaire (NFP) – the left-wing alliance hastily built after President Emmanuel Macron called early elections – to finish top in the second round of the legislative elections. So when the first estimates came in on the TV screens set up for the occasion at La Bellevilloise, in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, where the Socialists’ election evening was being held, it was time for outpourings of joy. “It’s the end of Jupiter,” celebrated member of the European Parliament Christophe Clergeau, using a nickname for Macron.

At the same time, at La Rotonde Stalingrad, in the 19th arrondissement, leader of La France Insoumise Jean-Luc Mélenchon was the first on the left to speak. He hailed a “magnificent surge of mobilization.” “Our people have clearly rejected the worst solution,” he boasted, celebrating the defeat of the far right. Mélenchon then turned his attention to the outgoing government: “The president of the Republic must bow down, the prime minister must go.” And the left must govern. As a sign that reconciliation was not complete within the alliance, each party celebrated the results separately on Sunday evening, and no joint speeches had been scheduled, unlike in the first round.

In reality, although the result was unexpected, the road to a Nouveau Front Populaire government is still long: The alliance won 182 seats, compared with 168for Macron’s coalition Ensemble and 143 forthe far-right Rassemblement National and its allies. The left remains far from an absolute majority (289 out of 577 seats). How could the NFP govern when it will have a relative majority, even weaker than Macron’s outgoing coalition, which had 250 MPs? After the demonstrations of joy, particularly audible in the major cities from Marseille to Paris – so great was the relief at not seeing the RN come to power – now comes the time for calculations.

As my colleague Steven Taylor explained yesterday in his post “French Elections,” the country has a unique constitutional structure. The French President is arguably the most powerful chief executive among major democracies. He appoints the Prime Minister from a legislature that is independently elected.

As weird and unrepresentative as the US system is, I at least understand why it was designed that way. France tried and failed to establish a viable republican model four times before settling on this hybrid, which they’ve managed to make work for decades now, but it’s odd.

The system is in some ways more democratic than ours, in that it enables to creation of niche parties that push more agendas than our two behemoths can. At the same time, though, it’s not a traditional proportional representation system.

It really makes no sense to me to have a run-off election and a first-past-the-post system. If you’re doing the former, it seems obvious that it should be among the two top vote-getters in the first round, ensuring that the second round produces a majority winner. Instead, they allow the top three parties in each district to compete.

In this case, the prospect of the far-right winning an outright majority incentivized the leftist and centrist parties to work together to avoid that outcome by having the third-place candidate in many districts withdraw. But now we’re left with a giant mess, as the only thing these parties had in common was opposition to the far right.

Traditionally, the outcome in these cases has been cohabitation. But, usually, that means that the centrist parties ally themselves to prevent extremists from governing. It seems rather clear at this moment that the plurality hard-left party has no interest in working with Macron’s people. And the interim move of keeping the current premier in place is obviously unsustainable.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Jen says:

    *Gallic shrug.* Comme toujours.

    A few weeks of disorder, and then it’s time for August holiday.

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  2. Instead, they allow the top three parties in each district to compete.

    Minor point: any candidate who receives at least 12.5% of the vote in the first round advances to the second round. So, not necessarily the top three, although I expect that is the common outcome.

    It really makes no sense to me to have a run-off election and a first-past-the-post system.

    FWIW, in some ways it is closer to our system than I used to think, at least if you consider our primaries a first round, which I am increasingly inclined to think is the right way to think about them.

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  3. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: An interesting point about the primary system. Not a perfect analogy, of course, since they’re party elections rather than mass participation contests. At least in systems where we have runoffs, we guarantee a majority winner.

    Of course, as you well know, the party primary is effectively the election in many, if not most districts.

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  4. @James Joyner: Definitely not a perfect analogy, but I also increasingly think that given the porous nature of those primaries (to include the general lack of any central party control over candidates running in them) mean that treating yjrm simply as party elections is a category error.

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  5. gVOR10 says:

    I keep wondering why everybody is describing this as a shock. I seem to recall as soon as Macron called the snap election several analysts and pundits said this anti-Right reaction in the second round, when it actually mattered, was what Macron was counting on. Seems like Macron’s good at this.

    In 2016 pretty much everyone, especially the pollsters, thought Hillary would win. So Mueller could cop out, Comey could play politics, FTFNYT could obsess about email, and many voters could lodge an anti-establishment protest vote, all expecting no consequences. Had there magically been a second round, how many of you think Trump would still have won?

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  6. gVOR10 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    yjrm

    You’d think by now AI spellcheck would look to see if adjacent keys made more sense. Says the guy who fat fingers his email about 1 in 5.

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  7. Kathy says:

    @gVOR10:

    Partly because the left coalition and whatever Macron represents, had to run around and strike deals for withdrawing candidates after the first round.

    Also:

    Seems like Macron’s good at this.

    Or he’s lucky at this.

    It’s hard to judge someone’s acumen when a gamble has two possible outcomes, and is engaged in seldom. Think of flipping a coin. If I called heads and got it right, no one would say I’m good at determining the outcome of a coin flip based on that.

    While there were several possible outcomes, the one that matters is whether the neo-Vichy party (parties?) would be able to form a government or not. And that’s a binary outcome set.

    Had the result been otherwise, we’d be excoriating Macron as much or more than David Cameron.

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  8. Barry says:

    James, AFAICT it’s not a mess.

    ReplyReply

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