‘France is ungovernable’: what experts say about election results

Did the far-right really lose as they gained seats? Can Macron call himself a winner? Political experts give feedback after the surprise win by the left alliance in the legislatives

The French legislatives results gave an unexpected victory to the left coalition

France’s legislative election results last night came as a surprise and not just for the general public.

Political experts, commentators and pundits of French politics were also taken aback by the results, which no major poll had predicted.

The Nouveau Front Populaire (NFP) won 180 seats followed by the government and centrist allies with 163. 

The far-right Rassemblement National (RN), projected to win 220 to 270 MPs, came third with 143 MPs.

Read more: Left come through to beat far right and win French election

Read more: Election results around France: how did your area vote in final round?

President Macron will need to nominate a new prime minister in line with the political make-up of the Assemblée nationale

Current prime minister Gabriel Attal was asked to stay on in the role as caretaker after he attempted to resign on Monday morning. 

The Connexion asked retired political lecturer Jean Pétaux and independent political analyst Thomas Guénolé for insights and comments to help our readers understand an unprecedented situation under the current French political system.

Is France in a state of gridlock?

Mr Pétaux said France was most probably heading toward legislative and political gridlock as it requires coalition alliances that none of the parties and the president look ready to make.

Mr Guénolé said that the election looks like a dress-rehearsal of the next presidential election that will be held in 2027.

“We have seen that the left could unite in a matter of days. We have seen that a portion of the conservative right was ready to make an alliance with the far-right. We have seen that many voters wanted to block the far-right from accessing power,” said Mr Guénolé, highlighting some of the more surprising elements of the election cycle.

Perhaps the most eye-opening of these is the latter point, as the far-right romped the first round of the elections held on June 30, winning over 33% of the vote and more than any other party.

How did France get here?

The reason behind the RN losing its momentum in the second round lies in the structure of the legislative elections.

Candidates who receive enough votes in the first round (around 12.5% of the amount of registered voters in the circonscription) qualify for the second-round. 

Candidates with more than 50% after the first round are automatically elected, which happened in just over 70 seats.

The legislatives saw an unprecedented number of districts with three and four candidates making their way to the second round (called triangulaires and quadriangulaires), as political alliances reduced the number of parties running candidates.

Initially, this seems like good news for the far-right, who came first in many circonscriptions where the party did not win outright.

However, the far-right has to contend with the ‘front républicain’, or republican front.

This is an informal alliance between parties that has been in place since 2002 – when Jean-Maire Le Pen made it to the second round of the presidential election. 

The basis of this loose alliance is that everyone, regardless of their political beliefs, votes for the candidate not belonging to the far-right, in order to block them from being elected.

In these legislative elections, it meant many candidates who finished in third or fourth place dropped out in order to endorse a candidate which finished above them who did not belong to the far-right, and had a better chance of winning in the second round.

The majority of candidates from the NFP who were in a lower position pulled out – La France Insoumise, the largest party in the block, withdrew every candidate that had come third and called for a ‘front républicain’. 

Although this was not the official policia for centrist candidates, many of them who finished third went against the party line to stay in the race and withdrew to endorse an NFP candidate, said Mr Guénolé.

“It means that a lot of voters still vote against the RN. These withdrawals are the only reason behind the loss of the RN,” said Mr Guénolé.

Has the election clarified anything?

One of the major motivations for the dissolution was to let French voters clarify the political forces at play in the country, President Macron said.

The results have not cleared anything, Mr Pétaux argued.

“You have three solid political blocs of unequal size: the left, the centre and the right. But they hide a considerable amount of fragmentation within them,” he said.

“There are potentially 12 parliamentary groups at the Assemblée nationale,” he said. “I have never seen that under the current constitution,” he added.

The NFP is fragmented, including the far-left La France Insoumise, as well as the French Communist Party, alongside the more centre-left Socialist and Green parties. 

Macron’s centrist camp is made up of three parties: Renaissance (98 MPs), Modem (34 MPs) and Horizons (26 MPs).

The Rassemblement National (126 MPs) has absorbed a portion of MPs from conservative-right Les Républicains (17 MPs) but a significant majority – 66 – went against this alliance and will sit in the Assemblée nationale as a separate entity.

This makes it a key player for any future potential coalitions and the fourth-strongest party in the chamber Parliament.

Finally, there are smaller political forces with MPs from smaller parties.

“Emmanuel Macron has invented the political oxymoron. He created the opaque clarification,” said Mr Pétaux, hinting that the new parliament will only create further confusion.

Has the far-right lost?

The French press emphasised the defeat of the far-right, as did many global media outlets, which had predicted the group would be the largest party in the political chamber. 

The analysis is based on polls and pundits which predicted that it would win anything ftom 220 to 270 MPs following the party’s results at the European elections.

“Without taking polls into account, the RN won seats,” said Mr Pétaux.

The RN with allies from LR jumped from 89 seats in the last parliament to 143, an unprecedented result for a far-right party under the current constitution.

It is, technically, the party with the highest number of MPs.

This is the main argument that was brought forward by party leader Jordan Bardella in his speech after the results, emphasising on the progression of MPs at the Assemblée nationale.

“They have lost but they are gaining ground,” said Mr Guénolé.

Read more: CHART: French far right fails to win but shows massive growth

Mr Guénolé published four scenarios for the future French government on Twitter last Thursday that were all based on the RN winning with a relative majority.

“We just bought us three years before the presidential election,” he said. Mr Guénolé is a former member of La France Insoumise.

Has Macron lost?

When you consider numbers, it is fair to say President Macron ‘lost’ the election, said Mr Guénolé.

The president and his allies lost over 100 MPs between the 2022 and 2024 legislative elections, alongside its relative majority and role as the largest party.

One of the possible reasons for the dissolution was to give the far-right access to power earlier than expected to weaken it ahead of the presidential election in 2027.

Mr Macron said he would rather have the far-right at power in 2024 than in 2027. 

In that case, the victory of the NFP could be read as a victory for Mr Macron, as he will be able to levy similar charges against the left.

“I think Mr Macron will call himself a winner of this election and be a major actor of the legislative process, which will considerably complicate the future of politics,” said Mr Pétaux.

Who will be the next prime minister?

The current parliament is unprecedented under the current constitution. 

It is impossible to determine who will be France's next Prime minister, argued Mr Pétaux.

“France’s political system is not Germany. The words compromise and consensus are not really part of French political history,” he said.

“Under the current circumstances, I do not see how political parties will amend their programs and elaborate some sort of mutual ground where they could all agree on,” he added.

“Plus, a coalition government requires pragmatism, which is not Mr Macron’s prime virtue,” he said.

Mr Guénolé said Mr Macron is bound by the results, meaning he has to choose a prime minister from the NFP coalition considering it is the current strongest coalition force.

But Mr Macron could decide to make alliances toward his right, looking to partner with MPs from Les Républicains for instance.

“It is technically possible,” said Mr Guénolé, “but it would go against the desire expressed by the majority of French voters who chose NFP,” he added. “This is sort of a custom.”

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