French voters headed to the polls on Sunday in the final round of legislative elections that will show just how much leeway President Emmanuel Macron’s party will have to implement its ambitious national agenda.
Polls are held across the country to select the 577 members of the National Assembly, the most powerful branch of the French Parliament.
In last week’s first-round vote, a coalition led by far-left brandon Jean-Luc Melenchon put on a surprisingly strong performance, sending jitters among centrist and center-right Macron allies who fear losing. their current parliamentary majority.
They fear that a strong performance by Melenchon’s coalition could turn Macron into a shackled minority leader who spends his time negotiating with politicians instead of governing freely. Macron’s coalition has campaigned to retain its majority – a share of more than half of the seats – to enable him to implement the program on which he was re-elected in May, including tax cuts and a hike in retirement age in France from 62 to 65 years old.
But this parliamentary election has once again been largely defined by voter apathy – with more than half of the electorate staying home for the first round, and broadsides between candidates further turning people away. In Sunday’s parliamentary second round, turnout was 38% as of 5:00 p.m. (3:00 p.m. GMT; 11:00 a.m. EDT) – even lower than in the first vote.
Although Macron’s alliance is expected to win the most seats, observers predict it may not maintain a parliamentary majority – the golden mean of 289 seats. In this case, the new coalition made up of the far left, the socialists and the greens could complicate Macron’s political maneuvers, since the lower house of parliament has the final say in passing laws.
Macron made a powerfully choreographed appeal to voters earlier this week from the tarmac ahead of a trip to Romania and Ukraine, warning that an inconclusive election, or a hung parliament, would put the nation at risk.
“In these troubled times, the choice you make this Sunday is more crucial than ever,” he said on Tuesday, as the presidential plane waited in the background for a visit to French troops stationed near Ukraine. . “Nothing would be worse than adding French disorder to global disorder,” he said.
Some voters accepted and opposed the choice of candidates for the political extremes who are gaining popularity. Others have argued that the French system, which grants broad power to the president, should give more voice to the multi-faceted parliament and operate with more checks on the presidential Elysee palace and its occupant.
“I’m not afraid of having a more fragmented National Assembly between different parties. I hope for a more parliamentary and less presidential regime, as you can have in other countries,” said Simon Nouis, a voting engineer in southern Paris.
Polling agencies estimated that Macron’s centrists could ultimately win 255 to more than 300 seats, while the left-wing coalition led by Mélenchon, called Nupes, could win more than 200 seats. The far-right National Rally party of Marine Le Pen, vice-champion in the presidential election, should strengthen its small parliamentary presence but remains far behind.
“The disappointment was clear on the evening of the first round for the leaders of the presidential parties,” said Martin Quencez, political analyst at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
If Macron fails to win a majority, it won’t just affect France’s domestic politics, it could have ramifications across Europe. Analysts predict the French leader will have to spend the rest of his term focusing more on his domestic agenda than his foreign policy. It could mean the end of President Macron, the continental statesman.
If he loses his majority, “he should be more involved in domestic politics in the next five years than he was before, so one would expect him to have less political capital to invest in European level or international level… This can have an impact on European politics as a whole in European affairs,” Quencez said.
Jeffrey Schaeffer contributed to this report.