French election defeat: Could Macron step down as president?

Results mean president’s group no longer has majority in Assemblée nationale

President Emmanuel Macron will likely have to offer the prime minister role to someone from the left-wing Nouveau Front Populaire. Manuel Bompard and Marine Tondelier (both pictured) are possible candidates.
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French politics is facing an unusual – but not unique – situation, with the president no longer having the largest party in the Assemblée nationale.

It means France’s political chamber – and government – will probably be controlled by someone outside of president Macron’s ruling party, raising questions over his role and whether he will resign as president in the wake of his coalition’s defeat.

The president and his coalition of centrist parties performed better than expected in the second round, and are on course to win between 150 and 175 seats, according to polls published on the public service media FranceInfo

Left-wing alliance Nouveau Front Populaire are ahead, however, predicted to win between 172 and 192 seats, with the far-right Rassemblement National gaining between 132 and 152.

Read more: Breaking: Left come through to win French election in first results

This means that no party will come close to winning an absolute majority of seats, casting doubts on the political stability of France and the make-up of the next government. 

Who chooses the prime minister?

Whilst it is the president who chooses the prime minister, the appointment has to be made in accordance with the political make-up of the Assemblée nationale

It means the president needs to pick the candidate from the largest party – currently set to be the left-wing Nouveau Front Populaire (NFP) – regardless of his own political affiliations or beliefs. 

The party is within its right to refuse the president’s nomination (a party can refuse even if they win an absolute majority) and there is nothing that is ‘forcing’ it to accept the role of forming a minority government.

However, the NFP may still attempt to rule as a minority government, although would probably be blocked from passing any laws by a chamber vehemently opposed to them. 

The situation will become clearer on Monday (July 8) morning, when the full results are known. 

Read more: France in political gridlock: what happens now?

If the nomination is not accpted, the president can attempt to form a coalition government from the other parties, picking a prime minister from one of these groups.

These parties must accept the candidate however, or they could cast a vote of no confidence in the prime minister – such vote likely to be backed by the far-right and other opposition groups – leading to an alternative prime minister being appointed. 

If a coalition cannot be formed the president must return to the first group once more to ask them to accept an appointment. 

If France enters a state of total political deadlock, the president can dissolve the Assemblée nationale and call for a new legislative election in one year’s time.

A new cohabitation?

Regardless of the final outcome, these results mean it is likely that the president and prime minister will be from different political parties and have opposing views on how the country should be governed.

This political set-up, known as ‘cohabitation’ in France, has occurred three times during the French Fifth Republic, most recently between 1997 and 2002. 

It also happened twice under president François Mitterand, in 1986 - 1988, and 1993 - 1995.

In each instance – but particularly the last, when Socialist Lionel Jospin was prime minister under right-wing president Jacques Chirac – the prime minister has controlled much of the political power in France. 

This has included the passing of many major reforms, which were opposed by sitting presidents. Notably, Mr Jospin passed a reform to reduce the work week from 39 to 35 hours in 2000, under Chirac’s presidency. 

Whilst a president still retains some powers and can inhibit the ability of the Assemblée natonale to pass laws, usually by not signing bills and requiring them to pass through parliament, they are greatly restrained in what they can do. 

For President Macron, this is further exacerbated as he is coming to the end of his presidential tenure in the coming years. 

He is currently in his second term as president and cannot run for a third consecutive term.

Will the French president resign? 

This all means that president Macron may decide to resign, frustrated by political gridlock, humbled at his defeat, or feel as if he no longer represents the French people.

If he did, the president of the French Senate would become acting president, and the first round of a new presidential election must be held within 35 days, with the second round held either seven or 14 days after. 

However France is unlikely to head to the polls for a third major election this year, however, as the president ruled out resigning, regardless of Sunday’s results. 

In a press conference in June, the president said the idea of resigning was “absurd” regardless of whether his party won the legislative elections or not.

Read more: Macron: why I called snap French election and won’t resign if we lose

However in the case of a total political deadlock, the president’s resignation – and the chance for a new president to work with the Assemblée nationale – may be the only option to move the government forward.