A few hours before the first round, with an uncertain result and the balance of power in Parliament in the air, the campaign for the legislative elections fails to arouse the interest of the French. The tiredness after the presidential elections, the absence of debate between party representatives –especially on television– and a government that has opted for discretion predict a high rate of abstention. Only the New Popular, Ecologist and Social Union (Nupes), a platform that brings together most of the left-wing forces, has broken that trend of disinterest and has managed to place itself at the center of the debates.
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An Ipsos-Sopra Steria poll for French public broadcaster this Thursday placed the platform at the same level as the coalition of Emmanuel Macron and his allies in voting intention (28% and 27%, respectively). In third position would be the National Association of Marine Le Pen (19.5%). However, demoscopy experts warn about the difficulty of anticipating how these data will translate into the final distribution of seats on the 19th, since each deputy is elected locally in the 577 constituencies, with a double-round system and very different equations according to each territory.
One of the things that does seem clear is that the alliance of progressive forces is going to improve the results of 2017 (64 seats) and is going to considerably increase its presence in the Borbón Palace, seat of the National Assembly. Nupes, which brings together France Insumisa, Europe Ecology-The Greens, the Communist Party and the Socialist Party –although part of the members of the PS rejects the pact– has emerged as the main alternative to the presidential party. His bid to achieve a parliamentary majority that would force Macron to appoint Jean-Luc Mélenchon as prime minister has succeeded in prolonging the positive momentum of the presidential campaign and mobilizing an important part of the left-wing forces.
The first results in the constituencies of the French abroad, published last Sunday, confirm this momentum. Although the candidates macronists have come in the lead in most territories – with the notable exception of Manuel Valls – Nupes shows significant improvement by qualifying for the second round in ten constituencies out of 11, twice as many as the left-wing forces in 2017.
Ipsos projections published this Thursday suggest that the movement that supports Macron – called Ensemble, which includes the president’s party, La República en Marcha – will obtain between 260 and 300 seats, compared to 175-215 for Nupes and 20 -50 of the National Association of Le Pen. The Gaullist right, divided into various formations, would receive between 35 and 55, historically low results.
Five years ago, a month after Macron came to power, his party won an overwhelming majority of 313 deputies, in addition to the 47 of his MoDem allies. After his re-election, the president and his supporters had a relatively easy campaign to repeat results and govern with a large margin of maneuver thanks to a new absolute majority –from 289 deputies–, but the dynamic imposed by Mélenchon and Nupes has changed the scene.
Although the majority of experts believe that La República en Marcha will be the party with the most seats and that Ensemble will have greater representation than Nupes, there are many doubts regarding the margin of this possible victory and the difficulties that not having a majority may entail for the Government in the face of the most controversial reforms that he plans for this term. And, although even the possibility of a defeat is unlikely, unthinkable several weeks ago, it is now considered “not impossible”, as the Elysée has transmitted to various French media.
In France, the President of the Republic is the one who appoints the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister is the one who forms a Government, which must obtain the confidence of the National Assembly. In 1997, the victory of Lionel Jospin, who was leading a coalition of left-wing forces, forced President Chirac to appoint him as prime minister. So, in order to avoid surprises, the main figures of the presidential party have raised the tone of the attacks against Mélenchon to try to capitalize on the reticence that moderate voters may have towards the leader of France Insumisa, whose image of radical and little conciliator appears in the most polls.
“Once the presidential campaign is over and that kind of state of grace which he enjoyed, Mélenchon fails to appear as a reassuring political leader ahead of the legislative elections, above all because of the very harsh style and tone with which he has decided to campaign, far from the ‘high’ image he had during the presidential campaign,” says political scientist Jérémie Peltier, in a note from the Jean-Jaurès Foundation. A few days ago, the Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire, branded Mélenchon a “Gallic Chávez” and the former Minister of Health, Olivier Véran, advanced another argument repeated by the presidential majority: cohabitation with the left led by Mélenchon would cause an “institutional crisis”. and a lock.
A recent event illustrates this strategy of its rivals. Last Saturday, Mélenchon denounced in Twitter “an unacceptable abuse of power” by the Paris Police, after a young woman was killed in a shootout and a man was seriously injured after fleeing a checkpoint – the police say that the car started in their direction, something that the other occupants of the vehicle deny. A day later, Mélenchon added: “The police kill and the factious group Alliance [sindicato policial de derecha] justifies shooting and death for ‘refusing to obey’.
The statements have been used by all his rivals to accuse him of being against the forces of order. “There are things that I cannot accept and one of them is that those who risk their lives to protect ours are insulted,” Macron said Thursday on a trip to the small town of Puycelsi, in the Tarn department. “The extremes propose adding crisis to the crisis, going back on alliances,” said the president, putting Mélenchon and Le Pen on the same level, whom he accuses of “weakening the unity of the country.”
The Born effect
The election of Elisabeth Borne as prime minister responds, in part, to a strategy aimed at weakening the progressive alliance: her experience in positions related to the ecological transition, her socialist past and the announcement that her first major project will be a law on purchasing power are largely aimed at seducing the center-left electorate. Since her appointment, the new head of government and her ministers have tried to be discreet and avoid controversy, although the accusations of sexual assault against the new Solidarity minister, Damien Abad, and the incidents around the Champions League final have complicated their first weeks.
According to the Ipsos survey, only 46% of those surveyed say they will vote on June 12. Turnout in the first round of the 2017 legislative elections was 48.7% and this could still be lower. In addition to the late appointment of the Government and the discretion of the new Executive, which has avoided talking about unpopular reforms such as pension reforms, another important factor is the low profile of figures from right-wing and far-right parties.
Le Pen, in particular, has hardly been seen since the presidential campaign ended. The type of scrutiny particularly penalizes his party and, although he is expected to improve the eight deputies he currently has, the rivalry with the new far-right formation of Éric Zemmour complicates his progression. It is more difficult for the traditional right-wing Republicans party, orphan of leadership and in the process of being refounded after the electoral debacle of Valérie Pécresse. Indeed, Macron hopes to elicit a helpful vote, this time from the right, to stem Mélenchon’s rise.