The “Republican Front” Won in France, But Macron Created a Mess

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The “Republican Front” Won in France, But Macron Created a Mess

A left-wing coalition has won the most seats in France’s National Assembly, a surprise surge that denied power to the far-right but left France’s government even more fractured than before. The majority of French voters rejected Marine Le Pen’s Reassemblement National (National Rally), uniting to form a so-called “republican front” to defeat the far-right. 

The broad left-wing alliance, the Nouveau Front Populaire (The New Popular Front), championed this “republican front,” pulling out of races where their candidates were weakest and unequivocally pushing voters to back anybody who wasn’t a far-right candidate. French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist coalition mostly followed this strategy, although Macron and some of his allies were more reluctant to do so in places where they considered the left-wing candidates too lefty. Still, about 200 candidates dropped out ahead of Sunday’s vote, turning many constituencies into two-way contests and building a firewall against Le Pen and the far-right.

Jordan Bardella, the National Rally’s president, revealed his disdain for democracy by blaming the “dishonorable alliance” for defeating his party. We “have saved the Republic,” declared Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the left-wing France Unbowed, part of the New Popular Front.

The New Popular Front – in addition to its clear-eyed defense of democracy – ran on an ambitious economic, social, and environmental agenda. Macron’s centrist Ensemble claimed second place, but still got clobbered, losing dozens and dozens of seats. The National Rally came in third, well short of expectations, but it still made unprecedented gains and strengthened its presence in the National Assembly. The “republican front” pushed the far-right back, but did not fully destroy it.

It is a reminder of how Macron totally and completely fumbled this election gambit. The “republican front” succeeded, but the relief at saving the Republic might be temporary. As Paul Smith, an associate professor of French history and politics at the University of Nottingham told Splinter before the election results: “the soul of the Republic is not a program of government. If we save the republic from the far-right, what are we going to do now? Where do we go?”

That is the messy question that hangs over the country now. No party came anywhere close to the necessary 289-seat majority in France’s 577-member National Assembly, and France is pretty unaccustomed to a parliament without a dominant party. The New Popular Front is only expected to win around 180 or so seats, which means it won’t be able to govern on its own. Macron, who is supposed to be president until 2027, just saw his coalition’s power decimated. France’s government looks even more divided and deadlocked, a recipe for turmoil and instability.

The formula here is probably some sort of deal between the left-wing alliance and Macron’s centrist coalition. Exactly what this would look like, and how it would work, is a bit of a wild card. This kind of union, even an informal one, is untested in France.  

The left-wing alliance and Macron’s centrists have deep policy disagreements. The New Popular Front’s platform includes plans like hiking the minimum wage, raising the retirement age, freezing food and energy prices, restoring a wealth tax, investing in the green transition, and providing asylum protections to “climate refugees.” They are an explicit rejection of Macron’s economically liberal policies and quite literally are trying to undo parts of his legacy, like Macron’s pension reform and abolition of the wealth tax

Macron has also indicated that he wouldn’t work with France Unbowed, Mélenchon’s left-wing party that is the largest force in the New Popular Front, alongside the center-left Socialist Party, the Greens, and the Communist Party. Macron has drawn a dangerous false equivalence between the far-left and the far-right, calling both of them extremes that risked “civil war.” 

Yet the left-wing France Unbowed are uninterested in working with Macron. Mélenchon has called the National Rally’s Bardella “Macron, but worse,” also a problematic comparison. Some members of France Unbowed have already ruled out any compromise with Macron.

“The president must appoint as prime minister someone from the New Popular Front to implement the NFP’s program, the whole program and nothing but the program,” Manuel Bompart, an ally of Melenchon said, according to Reuters. Mélenchon has also been pretty clear that he’d like to be prime minister, though some within his own party are a bit exhausted by his antics and see him as a roadblock to real power. 

Other members of the New Popular Front have indicated that this is going to be a long, deliberative process.  Raphaël Glucksmann, a leading figure with the Socialists, seemed more willing to acknowledge the tough reality that the left won, but not overwhelmingly. “We’re ahead, but we’re in a divided parliament,” he said.

“We’re going to have to act like grownups. We’re going to have to talk, to discuss, to engage in dialogue,” he added. 

Macron may attempt to form some sort of centrist alliance, picking apart the left to work with the moderate wing, including the Socialists or Greens. Gabriel Attal, Macron’s prime minister, put unemployment benefit reform on hold last week, which many experts saw as an olive branch to the left.  

Internal divisions have taken down previous iterations of this left-wing coalition, but it’s not clear that the moderates will abandon the NFP to go with Macron. The Socialists, for example, just started to rebuild their electoral support after a strong showing in the European elections.

Hitching themselves to an unpopular and weakened Macron, and ditching their partners after an unprecedented electoral victory, is a tough, tough look. 

Macron could try to find workarounds, like appointing a technocratic government, but that requires parliamentary approval. Whatever scenario does emerge, they may be pretty fragile and unsteady.

It may also take time. The French prime minister, Attal, tried to resign on Monday, but Macron rejected it, asking him to temporarily “stay in place to ensure the country’s stability,” in a sign of the uncertainty to come.

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