The Election That Matters in France Is Now, June 19
Political Life Begins after the Presidential
The baby, like all the rest of us, barely sleeps in the heatwave but she’s quiet now. The radio is on in the kitchen and everyone listens as they go about making dinner or having a smoke, recovering after the terrific temperatures of the last few days. The announcers are giving us the latest non-results, because, before 8 p.m. when the last precincts close across the country, no one really knows. We’ve been in election season since mid-April and this one is the most important.
Yes, President Macron was re-elected in April, defeating Marine Le Pen for a second time by a much-diminished margin. Now the country is voting for the Assemblée Nationale, housed in the old Palais Bourbon, which sits right across the bridge from Place Concorde in Paris. (A bridge built out of stones that once were walls of the Bastille.) And therein lies the importance of this vote on Sunday, June 19, the second round of the legislative elections.
These really are the most delicious and delirious moments in politics, when nothing is certain and everything is up in the air. It doesn’t happen often because people crave certainties. Leaders like to project they know where the ship of state is going, even when they haven’t got a clue. Confidence, naked ambition, repetition of the same message over and over: that’s what people are accustomed to. Most elections are not cliffhangers. They are a contest between two sets of certainties that have little chance in the real world.
But for the next few minutes that isn’t so. The French presidential system creates a kind of king, a Jupiter as Macron likes to call himself. He floats above the fray and lets his Premier Ministre handle the dirty work. That would be, at present, Elisabeth Borne, a technocrat chosen for her grandmotherly face, inoffensive qualities and, one suspects, ability to take orders. There’s the rub : unless the ruling party, La République en Marche – which after the presidential election changed its name to Renaissance and its slogan to Ensemble, Together – obtains an absolute majority in the Assembly, the members of that august body can reject Macron’s Premier Minister and replace her with their own.
Enter Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Les NUPES. Mélenchon, the abrasive, eternally uninvited to the duopoly of French politics, negotiated that most unexpected of things, an alliance of left political parties, Insoumis (his party), Socialists and environmentalists, operating under the umbrella of the Nouvelle Union populaire écologique et sociale. They came into today’s second round in strong position, having knocked several cabinet ministers out of their legislative seats (double duty is common in France) and giving France, or at least a part of France, hope for a restrained Banker-President, the clash of opposing politics under the same roof. What Le Canard, the satiric weekly called une sacrée coagitation, would be a sharing of power with Macron as president and Mélenchon prime minister. The president ran a blasé campaign, as if he couldn’t be bothered. He’s paying the price for that now.
The baby is suddenly yelling again, the radio is jumping with voices at full volume and a bottle of champagne just popped at a neighbor’s house. Results are on all the sites and the news stations, and the Ogress Who Won’t Go Away is back, in force. Marine Le Pen was ignored, with media focus on Macron and Mélenchon, and she stole in like a thief in the night. Le Pen has given a rousing speech, and Mélenchon his defiant ‘France Isn’t Done Yet’ response. Both have a right to be happy with the results, even if expectations - dreams, hopes, wild bets against the odds - were on Mélenchon doing better. And to think, in January-February the media wrote him off as an historical anachronism.
Here are the numbers. The one certain conclusion is the utter defeat of the president’s party, whether called En Marche or Renaissance. To cite but two examples, Richard Ferrand, the President of the Assembly, lost his seat, as did Amélie de Montchalin, an utterly useless Environment Minister in an administration that can’t be bothered with transitions, écologique or other. Both of the current cabinet’s two accused rapists - yes, you read that right - won, Damien Abad triumphing over a third accusation in the last week while the ineffable Gerard Darminin, who has the talent for doing everything perfectly wrong, survived yet again. This is our political class in 2022.
Results are in and a NUPES landslide didn’t happen. Close, and the Nupes won many seats but nowhere near a majority. Macron’s party, whether called En Marche or Ensemble, is projected to have lost nearly 120 seats. Its majority is long gone.
Negotiations for a majority are sure to begin but who will be talking to whom ? Projections above, should they prove accurate, seem a perfect trifecta of stalemate. One thing we can count on is the near-total indifference to governing on the part of Le Pen’s party, the Rassemblement Nationale. Nowhere, whether in Strasbourg at the EU Parliament or in a locality, have they shown the slightest interest beyond the perks of the governing class. The activist mayor of Beziers in the south looked like a successful role model for the party; once elected as part of the Front National (the old fascist-tinged name for the party) he took a look around and quit. But oh those truckloads of free champagne arriving at Marine’s house….
As of now, the most remarkable achievement of Macron’s five-plus years in power is to encourage the spectacular growth of the far right, from a protest movement to a party with nearly 100 seats in the French parliament. Baring a miracle, Elisabeth Borne’s tenure as Prime Minister of France lasted from May 2022 to a day, yet to be announced, later this month.
I held off on reporting in the run-up to the elections because of time constraints but also to spare readers speculation piled on speculation. I’ll add to this article as more of the New Reality sinks in.