French legislative elections: Macron's majority under threat

French legislative elections: Macron's majority under threat
Jean-Luc Mélenchon narrowly missed out of making the second round of presidential elections but now leads an alliance that aims to undermine Macron's LREM party. Credit: Belga

Shortly after electing Emmanuel Macron for a second presidential term at the end of April, French voters return to the ballot box today to elect the 577 local deputies who will debate and vote on laws in the National Assembly.

Whilst most of the international attention focussed on Macron's election as head of state, the President's power is largely derived from the composition of the National Assembly. When Macron came to power in 2017, he was buoyed by a large majority in the Assembly, giving him the backing he needed to implement his policy agenda.

This time around, things aren't looking so good for the President, with high levels of abstentionism and a freshly-united left/green front (Nupes) posing a more robust challenge to Macron's centrist La Republic En Marche! (LREM) party.

Nupes – an acronym for 'New Popular Ecological and Social Union' – is led by socialist Jean-Luc Mélenchon and is hoping to appeal to voters that are frustrated with Macron's proposed social reforms, which are often criticised as being heavy-handed attempts to dismantle the country's social welfare schemes.

Current polling shows that Macron's LREM party is at risk of losing its absolute majority of 289 seats. In this case, it would become far more difficult for Macron to carry out policy changes, with individual laws being held up by fractured votes in the Assembly. Polls suggest that it will be a close call as to whether Macron's opponents will be able to gnaw away at his dominance.

To vote or not to vote?

With many French voters becoming increasingly disenchanted with the first past the post political system that leaves many feeling unrepresented, the proportion of voters who exercise their democratic right has been shrinking in past years.

In this latest election, voter participation has dropped again compared to five years ago. At midday, just 18.43% of those eligible had cast votes – 0.8% lower than at the same point in 2017.

A low turnout undermines the mandate of those elected and weakens the very premise of a democratic government: if voters don't participate in elections it makes it difficult for those who pass laws to credibly claim that they are legitimate rules that all citizens should follow.

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Sunday's vote will decide which candidates then go head to head in a final round of voting next week. This will then decide the final composition of the Assembly for the coming five years.

Mainland France is divided into 566 constituencies, with a further 11 in overseas territories. On average, there are 125,000 voters per constituency, although this varies depending on population density. Similar to the presidential elections, voting takes place in two rounds – the first this Sunday 12 June and the second next Sunday 19.

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