President Emmanuel Macron is on course to lose his absolute majority in the National Assembly and control of his reform agenda after the first projections by four pollsters showed Sunday’s election delivering a hung parliament.
Macron’s centrist Ensemble! alliance was set to end up with the most seats, the polls showed, followed by the left-wing Nupes bloc headed by the hard left veteran Jean-Luc Melenchon.
But the threshold for an absolute majority is 289 seats in the lower house, and the four pollsters’ projections showed Macron and his allies would fall well short of that.
If confirmed, a hung parliament would open up a period of political uncertainty that would require a degree of power-sharing among parties not experienced in France in recent decades, or else political paralysis and even possibly repeat elections.
Rachida Dati, from the conservative Les Republicains, called the results “a bitter failure” for Macron and said he should name a new prime minister.
“It’s Emmanuel Macron’s arrogance, his contempt for the French … which made him a minority president,” said Jordan Bardella, from Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National party.
In Macron’s camp, Gabriel Attal told TF1 TV: “Nobody has won,” while government spokeswoman Olivia Gregoire said the results were disappointing but noted the alliance was still set to be the biggest group in parliament.
The former head of the National Assembly, Richard Ferrand, lost his seat, and Health Minister Brigitte Bourguignon was also not re-elected, in two major defeats for Macron’s camp.
Separate forecasts by pollster Ifop, OpinionWay, Elabe and Ipsos showed Macron’s Ensemble alliance winning 200-260 seats and Nupes securing 149-200.
Macron’s ability to pursue further reform of the euro zone’s second biggest economy would hinge on his ability to rally moderates outside of his alliance on the right and left behind his legislative agenda.
At the Nupes’ headquarters, people clapped, chanted and cheered as the first initial estimates came.
In another major change for French politics, Le Pen’s party could win as much as 100 seats, the initial projections showed – its biggest score on record.
The Les Republicains party and its allies could also get as much as 100, potentially making them kingmakers.
Macron, 44, became in April the first French president in two decades to win a second term but he presides over a deeply disenchanted and divided country where support for populist parties on the right and left has surged.
He had appealed for a strong mandate during a campaign held against the backdrop of a war on Europe’s eastern fringe that has curbed food and energy supplies and sent inflation soaring, eroding household budgets.
“Nothing would be worse than adding French disorder to the world’s disorder,” the president had said ahead of the second-round vote.
Melenchon’s Nupes alliance campaigned on freezing the prices of essential goods, lowering the retirement age, capping inheritance and banning companies that pay dividends from firing workers. Melenchon also calls for disobedience towards the European Union.
Macron’s political allies cast Melenchon as a “sinister agitator” who would wreck France. Christophe Castaner, one of the ruling party’s most senior lawmakers, derided his economic program as “stacked with cliches from the Soviet era.”
“It is out of the question for me to vote for Melenchon’s absurd proposals – exiling ourselves from Europe and other nonsense of that kind. And they would be impossible to finance,” said pensioner Joyce Villemur who voted in Sevres just outside Paris.
The initial estimates indicated Nupes had fallen well short of winning a ruling majority but had deprived Macron of the same and would become the largest opposition bloc in the Assembly.
If Macron and his allies miss an absolute majority by a wide margin, as the initial projections suggest, they might either seek an alliance with Les Republicains or run a minority government that will have to negotiate laws with other parties on a case-by-case basis.
(Additional reporting by Michel RoseWriting by Richard Lough and Ingrid MelanderEditing by Barbara Lewis and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)