President Emmanuel Macron could dissolve the French parliament in 12 to 18 months' time following yesterday’s split parliamentary election results, two French political experts told The Connexion.
It would be done as a bid to keep legislative power and pass his promised reforms. One expert said President Macron will not be open to alliances (which he will need to have a majority vote to pass reforms) as his first term showed him against such a way of working.
The question of a dissolution was raised after the president’s party (a coalition of several centrist parties) failed to win enough seats to gain an absolute majority in the Assemblée nationale.
Seats went instead mainly to the Nupes Left / Far Left / Ecologist coalition and Marine Le Pen’s Far Right party. There was also an all-time high abstention among younger generations.
Mr Macron’s Ensemble! coalition won 245 seats (289 seats were needed for an absolute majority as Macron’s party have enjoyed for the last five years),
Nupes won 131 seats, making it the strongest opposition group at the Assemblée Nationale.
The far-right Rassemblement National is the second largest opposition group with 89 seats, an all-time high level of MPs under the Vth Republic.
Read more: MAP: Which areas of France have elected the 89 new far-right MPs?
Rassemblement National’s leader Marine Le Pen said she will not resume leading the party and far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon (a key Nupes leader) said he will now look to participate more actively in the MPs’ work, two reactions that show the importance of the National Assembly in France’s new politics.
Mr Macron is now forced to look for alliances to enact laws, opening the door to intense negotiations, gridlock and shenanigans. Unable to stand for a third term, Mr Macron can also expect political manoeuvrings as allies may begin to look for a successor.
“This situation is unprecedented for a sitting president and raises questions as to which parties Mr Macron will look to for alliances,” said Janine Mossuz-Lavau, a political science teacher at Sciences Po CEVIPOF’s political centre.
Ms Mossuz-Lavau said the coming months will see political parties torn from within as MPs debate whether or not to align with the president’s party, taking Les Républicains (LR) as an example.
Ms Mossuz-Lavau said the president will most likely cherry pick alliances with pockets of non-aligned MPs on the reforms he wishes to pass early in his second term. LR, which has 74 seats, is believed to be the party where alliances will be central since its MPs' views are the closest to Mr Macron’s. This is particularly so with the reform to extend the retirement age to 65.
However reforms covering spending power, nuclear power and Europe could prove a lot trickier.
She raised the possibility for a parliamentary dissolution if Mr Macron experienced too much resistance in the coming months, a possibility put forward by Le Monde citing information from members of the government.
“A dissolution of the National Assembly can be expected within 12 to 18 months,'' said Florent Parmentier, general secretary at the Sciences Po CEVIPOF’s political centre, adding that the president will look to put the blame for any gridlock on other parties so as to justify his decision.
Dissolution would be the solution brought forward in an effort to put an end to a legislative gridlock from too few alliances, another scenario that could play out.
Mr Parmentier said he does not believe Mr Macron will look for broader political alliances with one or two groups, taking into consideration that he showed “disdain” for the National Assembly and representatives bodies during his past term.
“What Macron showed during his first term did not suggest he will favour coalitions,” he said.
Mr Parmentier said Mr Macron could instead look more towards the use of referendums as a way to bypass the National Assembly. Another legislative technique could see the use of the 49-3 article that allows the government to force passage of a bill without a vote.
The 49-3 can be activated for reforms on social security finances and one other reform per parliamentary session.
Both experts said Mr Macron had himself to blame in part for the legislative results when asked about recurrent complaints of “arrogance” raised by French people, newspapers and critics.
Ms Mossuz-Lavau said the result showed considerable resistance from the French people, a remarkable trend considering that French legislative elections had always given the president’s party a comfortable margin at the National Assembly since 1988.
Mr Macron is the first sitting president to have not obtained an absolute majority at the Assembly since former president Jacques Chirac’s referendum in 2000, an ironic result considering the referendum looked to suppress dissolution and cohabitation by closely aligning the presidential and parliamentary elections.
Dissolving French parliament - how it works
Only France’s president has the power to dissolve the lower house of parliament, the Assemblée nationale. The president must consult with the prime minister and the presidents of both houses of parliament (also the Senate), but can dissolve parliament without their consent.
If the president decides to do so, the mandates of the elected MPs end immediately. New elections must take place between 20 to 40 days after the dissolution.
Parliament cannot be dissolved in the three following situations:
Within one year following a legislative election
When Article 16 emergency powers are in force (this has only happened once in the past, in 1961 during a coup d'état in French Algeria)
During interim periods of the presidency (if the president dies or steps down, for example)
France’s Assemblée nationale has been dissolved five times under the Fifth Republic, in 1961, 1968, 1981, 1988 and 1997.
The first four occasions ended well for the successive presidents, who ended up increasing their parties’ representation in parliament.
However, in 1997 Jacques Chirac’s gamble did not pay off and the opposition leftist coalition won 43.1% of the votes, with Chirac’s group getting 36.5%.
This led to a 'cohabitation', a French political term that describes France being governed by a president and a prime minister from an opposite party.
Three 'cohabitations' have happened since 1981.