United Left, Macron rebrand: Why French politics is in a state of flux

There is a new left-wing force that could shake up next month’s MP elections

Both Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Emmanuel Macron are making a big push for votes at the upcoming MP elections in June
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It is just over one month until France’s legislative elections and the country’s political landscape is in flux.

The four major left-wing parties have come together in a historic union, while the newly re-elected Emmanuel Macron has brought together a coalition of his own, as well as rebranding his party.

La République en Marche (LREM) has served him well, but is now reborn as ‘Renaissance’.

It is a sign of shifting sands. The Left’s union has suddenly made it a major player in June’s elections, and could mean a rebalancing of power in parliament.

“We are starting to see some amazing things,” Vincent Tiberj, a political scientist at Sciences Po Bordeaux, told Franceinfo.

“It is unusual to see the Left so high at the beginning of a legislative election. Maybe something is at play."

During April’s presidential elections, all the talk was about the rise of the far-right. Marine Le Pen (Rassemblement national) made it through to the second round where she gained 41.46% of votes, a feat she described as “a resounding victory”.

Read more: What does Le Pen’s strong election result say about France?

The dust had barely settled after that when attention snapped towards June’s legislative election, often called “the third round” of the presidential elections, when the country’s 577 MPs are chosen.

A majority for the president’s party in parliament allows them to push through more of their policies so it is an important vote for Mr Macron – he was able to form a majority throughout his first term as president.

But instead of the far-right, the focus has shifted to the new left-wing union of parties that is threatening to storm to victory under the initiative of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who placed third in the presidentials and missed out on the second round by just 420,000 votes.

Mr Mélenchon wants to be the country’s next prime minister to stand in opposition to Mr Macron. To do this, he needs his left-wing union to win so convincingly in the legislatives that Mr Macron is almost obliged to appoint him as his head of government, as the best representative of the MPs.

It ultimately remains the president’s choice who is appointed head of government but historically the results of the legislatives often steers the decision. And it is not impossible that Mr Mélenchon’s union could get that victory.

Read more: How can Mélenchon become French prime minister and how would it work?

The new united Left

Mr Mélenchon’s party La France Insoumise (LFI) agreed last night (May 5), after much talk, an alliance with France’s once-great-but-now-fallen Parti socialiste (PS).

The likes of François Mitterrand and François Hollande once led France under the banner of the PS, but in last month’s presidential election its candidate Anne Hidalgo scored just a touch over 2% of votes.

But it does not diminish the scale of this new political union.

“It is a historic moment,” said Pierre Jouvet, PS’s spokesperson.

“I am relieved, what we are building is a great hope for the country. The French people despaired of this disunity [between our parties].”

It means that four of France’s main left-wing parties are now united after similar accords were finalised in the past weeks between LFI and the French Greens - Europe Ecologie-Les Verts (EELV) - and the far-left Parti communiste français (PCF).

The four parties will collectively be known as Nouvelle Union populaire écologique et sociale (Nupes).

And they have a real chance of winning a majority at the legislative elections, which take place over two rounds on June 12 and 19.

There are 577 seats up for grabs, with the country divided into the same number of electoral districts, known as circonscriptions in French.

Of these seats, 555 are for mainland France and 22 for overseas territories.

The news service Franceinfo has made a prediction about how the votes could go, based on results during this year’s presidential elections and using the participation rates at the last legislatives in 2017.

It shows that a Nupes candidate could make it to the second round of the legislatures in 471 of the circonscriptions. This is more than any other party.

Mr Macron’s newly anointed Renaissance was predicted to make it through to the runoff in 448 districts, while Ms Le Pen’s Rassemblement National is only predicted to go through in 296.

The data shows that the party of far-right former presidential candidate Eric Zemmour, who finished fourth in the presidential elections and shook up French politics in the early stages of campaigning, is on track to make it through to the second round in just one district: Paris’ 14th circonscription.

The right-wing Les Républicains, who like PS have suffered a huge fall from grace lately, are also only expected to make an appearance in the second round of one district, the overseas territory of Wallis-et-Futuna.

It shows just how potent the new left-wing coalition could be.

In fact, according to Franceinfo, LFI on its own would only be favourites to make it through the second round of 261 districts, over 200 less than under the Nupes union.

The agreement reached between the parties of Nupes means that candidates from EELV will stand in 100 districts, candidates from the PCF will stand in 50, while PS candidates will stand in 70. In the rest, LFI will represent the union.

Nupes getting candidates to the second round of voting in the legislatures is just the first step, though.

The next question is who the voters will plump for, or, as Mr Tiberj said, who the voters are most against.

“The working class Le Pen voters may actually be attracted by a candidate from the united Left. On the other hand, if it is a more middle class Le Pen voter who is anti immigration and anti-taxes, they could end up going for Emmanuel Macron,” he said.

Another key factor could be high abstention rates. Typically, the legislatives have a much lower turnout than the presidential elections.

But in Franceinfo’s predictions, a Nupes candidate is expected to win in 261 districts.

This is just short of an absolute majority, with 289 MPs needed for that. If a single party has an absolute majority they can vote through any text in parliament without it being opposed, as long as all of their MPs remain united.

The predictions show Mr Macron’s party winning in 155 districts and Ms Le Pen’s winning in 161.

It should be noted that these predictions were made before La République en Marche rebranded and started up its own coalition.

Macron rebrands

Mr Macron created his own political party in 2016 called “En Marche” - based on his own initials, EM - in order to stand in the 2017 presidential elections.

He sought to label himself as neither politically Right or Left, used a logo he himself drew by hand, and did not associate with any colour, as parties often do.

It worked, and he won with 66.1% of votes in the second round.

Following that he rebranded his party as La République en Marche (LREM) to compete in the legislative elections. They fared well there too, winning an absolute majority with 308 seats.

Now, just like five years ago, he has decided on a rebrand but the predictions are not the same.

The party will now be known as Renaissance, a name also used by Mr Macron for the 2019 European election.

Stanislas Guerini, the party’s executive officer, said the name is to show that the party will “always make the choice of enlightenment against obscurantism”.

[Obscurantism is the practice of “deliberately preventing the facts or full details of something from becoming known”.]

The new name also comes with a new coalition of pro-Macron parties.

Renaissance will join with Horizons, the party of former prime minister Edouard Philippe, and the centre-right Democratic Movement (MoDem) under the banner of ‘Ensemble’ (meaning ‘together’).

The coalition will stand just one candidate in each of the 577 circonscriptions, with Renaissance present in around 400, Horizons in 58 and MoDem in between 101 and 110.

Christophe Sente, political scientist and member of the Fondation Jean-Jaurès think-tank, told The Connexion in April that Mr Macron may look to create a new party or coalition to try to establish a strong local voter base.

He said that if he did not, it could result in his party having too few MPs in parliament and being unable to force through policies.

This is likely one of the major reasons behind the rebrand and the coalition – to appeal to a wider range of voters.

Whether it works remains to be seen.

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