French voters go to the polls on Sunday in the first of two rounds that will decide whether President Emmanuel Macron gets a working majority in parliament or ends up without the support he will need to drive through his reform agenda.
Less than two months after winning re-election, Macron faces a strong challenge from a united left-wing bloc which polls show could deprive the president of an outright majority even if it does not take control of parliament.
Initial projections immediately after the presidential election showed Macron was on course to get a majority in parliament, as has been common since the shortening of presidential terms to five years.
Projections now show Macron and his allies, including Horizons, the new party of his former prime minister Edouard Philippe, could fall short of a majority of 289 by as many as 40 seats. That would require him to reach out to competing political parties.
At risk is Macron’s ability to pass his reform agenda, including a pension reform he says is essential to restore public finances. His opponents on the left instead are pushing to cut the pension age and launch a big spending drive.
The president has kept a low profile since the vote, taking two weeks to form a government and only rarely making outings. Meanwhile, hard-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon has built momentum by successfully forging an alliance between his France Unbowed movement, the Socialists and the Greens.
Voter turnout expected to be low
Government insiders expect a relatively poor turnout during Sunday’s first round for Macron’s coalition “Ensemble”, with record numbers of voters seen abstaining from the vote due to anger at the rising cost of living. Melenchon’s bloc hopes to capitalise off this.
A government source says they are expecting a difficult first round as disgruntled voters will want to send a message to government. “But we’re counting on the second round to show that Melenchon’s programme is fantasy,” continued the source.
On the other side of the political spectrum, polls show far-right leader Marine Le Pen could win a seat in her northern constituency straight from the first round by gaining over 50% of the votes.
Macron could lose more than just votes
Around fourteen of Macron’s ministers are competing in local election races and could lose their jobs if they fail to win seats in their respective constituencies.
One cabinet member most at risk is Macron’s Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clement Beaune, who is campaigning for a seat in an eastern Paris constituency which the opposition performed well in during the presidential election. As a former adviser at the Elysee Palace on matters such as Brexit, Beaune is a close ally to the president and has been one of a handful of aides who has gained a national and international profile.
“That would be a painful loss for Macron,” said the government source.
Asked about the risk of defeat while he was campaigning in the Marais district of Paris, Beaune said: “In a democracy, universal suffrage is a risk by essence. Voters will decide.”