PARIS (AP) — French voters went to the polls Sunday in the final round of parliamentary elections that will demonstrate how much legroom President Emmanuel Macron’s party will be given to implement his ambitious domestic agenda.
Polls are being held nationwide to select the 577 members of the National Assembly, the most powerful branch of France’s Parliament.
In last week’s first-round vote, a coalition led by hard-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon made a surprisingly strong showing, sending jitters through Macron’s centrist and center-right allies.
They fear that a strong performance by Melenchon's coalition on Sunday could turn Macron into a shackled second-term leader, one who spends his time bargaining with politicians and with limits on his ability to govern. Following Macron’s reelection in May, his coalition has been campaigning to keep its straight majority — a share of over half the seats — to enable the president to implement tough promises, including tax cuts and raising France’s retirement age from 62 to 65.
But these parliamentary elections have largely been defined by voter apathy — with over half the electorate staying home for the first round, and broadsides between candidates further turning people away. In Sunday’s parliamentary runoff, turnout was 19% at midday, slightly higher than last week at the same time but still low for France.
Though Macron’s alliance is projected to win the most seats, observers predict that it could fall short of maintaining a parliamentary majority — the golden number of 289 seats. In this case, the new coalition composed of the hard left, the Socialists and the Greens could make Macron’s political maneuvering harder, since the lower house of parliament has the final say in passing laws.
Macron made a powerfully choreographed plea to voters earlier this week from the tarmac ahead of a trip to Romania and Ukraine, warning that an inconclusive election, or hung parliament, would put the nation in danger.
“In these troubled times, the choice you’ll make this Sunday is more crucial than ever,” he said Tuesday, with the presidential plane waiting starkly in the background ahead of a visit to French troops stationed near Ukraine. “Nothing would be worse than adding French disorder to the world’s disorder,” he said.
Some voters agreed, and argued against choosing candidates on the political extremes who have been gaining popularity. Others argued that the French system, which grants broad power to the president, should give more voice to the multi-faceted parliament.
“I’m not afraid to have a National Assembly that’s more split up among different parties. I’m hoping for a regime that’s more parliamentarian and less presidential, like you can have in other countries,” said Simon Nouis, an engineer voting in southern Paris.
Polling agencies estimated that Macron’s centrists could ultimately win from 255 to over 300 seats, while the leftist coalition led by Mélenchon, called Nupes, could win more than 200 seats. The far-right National Rally party of Marine Le Pen, runnerup in the presidential election, is expected to boost its small parliamentary presence but remain well behind.
“The disappointment was clear on the night of the first round for the presidential party leaders,” said Martin Quencez, political analyst at The German Marshall Fund of the United States.
If Macron fails to get a majority, it will not simply affect France’s domestic politics, it could have ramifications across Europe. Analysts predict that the French leader will have to spend the rest of his term focusing more on his domestic agenda rather than his foreign policy. It could spell the end of President Macron the continental statesman.
If he loses his majority, “he would need to be more involved in domestic politics in the next five years than he was previously, so we could expect him to have less political capital to invest at the European level or international level... This may have an impact for European politics as a whole in European affairs,” Quencez said.
Jeffrey Schaeffer contributed to this report.