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Will Macron’s gamble pay off?

Will Macron’s gamble pay off?

Macron's decision to call this election follows his party’s defeat in the recent Euro-Parliament election, and could mark a significant shift in French politics.

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Last Updated : 27 June 2024, 23:06 IST
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French President Emmanuel Macron has set in motion a momentous event in the political landscape of France. In a surprise decision, he dissolved the National Assembly on June 9 and announced a snap election. The first day of the election is on June 30, and the second is on July 7.

The threshold to qualify for the second round is to win 12.5 per cent of the votes cast on June 30 in each constituency, and if no candidate attains 50 per cent, July 7 is when all the candidates who have more than 12.5 per cent will compete in the first-past-the-post method. The candidate who has the most votes wins the seat in the parliament. 

There has been a scramble to attract those casting their votes on the first day. For now, polling suggests the National Rally and some of its allies from the fractured Centre-Right have about 37 per cent of the total vote, while the Left, consisting of the New Popular Front, has about 28 per cent, and Macron’s Centre-Right party has about 18 per cent. The parties’ votes do not necessarily transfer into seats, but they give an idea of the scale of change from the previous election. Another factor is turnout. In 2022, the turnout was just under 50 per cent; it is expected to be larger now, and this election is forecast to stage a higher proportion of three-way contests. 

Macron's decision to call this election follows his party’s defeat in the recent Euro-Parliament election, and could mark a significant shift in French politics, and the potential success of Marine Le Pen’s far-Right National Rally party could reshape France’s domestic and foreign policy landscape. The National Rally needs 289 seats to command a majority, but opinion polls suggest it could get only between 195 and 245. That itself would constitute a record increase from the 88 MPs it currently has, but it would still fall short of the majority it needs to reign alone. 

Macron has doubtless considered these possibilities, but the Constitution of the Fifth Republic poses certain limitations, and the president is restricted to serving only two terms. Some commentators suggest that he might resign and be allowed to serve his remaining three years as president after another election, but more likely, he will ‘cohabit’ with the majority leader of the Assembly, who is likely to be Jordan Bardella from the National Rally.

This scenario would result in little mutual cooperation between the prime minister and the president. Le Pen will choose to retain her political capital ahead of the next presidential election in 2027, but if Bardella fails to succeed as premier, it might reduce her chance of seizing the major prize. 

The Left made a strategic decision to field a single candidate under the banner of the New Popular Front alliance, thus avoiding competition between rival Leftist parties, and expects to win between 190 and 235 seats which adds another layer of complexity to the already intricate political landscape.

France Unbowed, the Socialists, the Communists, and Greens make up this new alliance, and it intends to field 546 candidates, but its star, responsible for the revival of the Left, Raphael Glucksmann, has said that he will not accept traditional leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon as prime minister. So, the differences on the Left have been revealed even before the election. 

Ensemble, the coalition backing Macron, once included the centrist Modem and the centre-Right Horizons. Ensemble then controlled a workable 250 seats in the dissolved Assembly but now faces huge losses. which means that many of Macron’s loyalists may lose their seats in the first round. Polls give Macron's party less than 100 seats, and Horizons, led by Eduard Philippe, who has presidential ambitions, has decided to break with Macron and go it alone, though it may join a coalition after the election.

Judging from the past, Macron will retain charge of the defence and foreign policy roles. But Le Pen’s National Rally is wary of France’s involvement with the EU, the United Nations, and NATO. There is also the financial aspect: international markets, particularly the European ones, will be unnerved by the new political alignments. All said, Macron has taken a great gamble in the hope that he will claim the defeat of both the extreme Right and the Left in France.

(Krishnan Srinivasan is a former foreign secretary, and Julius Fein specialises in French history)

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