The surge of NUPES, the left-wing alliance that coalesced around Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s France Insoumise (PS, Europe-Ecologie, PCF), is expected to bring an earthquake to the traditionally quiet legislative elections that have followed the presidential elections since the 2002 reform, and until now have always secured a majority for the president.
The latest polls before Sunday’s second round show NUPES on the rise, with an estimated 150-200 seats, while the coalition backing Macron, Ensemble, would get 282, meaning it would fall short of the absolute majority of 289. The National Rally (RN), whose Marine Le Pen took 41% in the presidential runoff and 18% in the first round, increasing its vote by 1.2 million from five years ago, is expected to elect 35 deputies. The far right is paying the price for its lack of allies, indispensable in the majoritarian system, but for Le Pen, who is running for a seat herself, this would still be a success, because of the likelihood of the party having a parliamentary group for only the second time in the history of the Fifth Republic (her father Jean-Marie Le Pen previously achieved this feat in the 1980s, thanks to the proportional system).
The Républicains are fighting for survival after the disaster at the presidential elections (below 5 percent), but paradoxically they are set to gain in influence with the 60 or so seats the polls predict, because they will become indispensable to allow the government to pass laws.
Macron is preparing to weather a defeat: in the outgoing Assemblée Nationale, La République en Marche alone had an absolute majority, while now the Ensemble coalition (together with MoDem, Agir and Horizons) is set to lose 65 seats. The left as a whole, although it hasn’t increased its number of votes in the first round compared to the sum total of the supporters of its various parties in 2017, is expected to gain 128 seats.
The threat of Macron losing the absolute majority, and the goal set by Mélenchon with the slogan “Elect Me Prime Minister,” made for a fiery week of campaigning between the two rounds. There was practically no debate, but rather a sequence of invectives from one side and the other. Mélenchon is not a candidate, but he took center stage. There was a clash on the economy, as NUPES aired the suspicion that the government was preparing an 80 billion VAT hike in response to EU demands to balance the books. The Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne, retorted that the leftist program, with the retirement age at 60, the minimum wage at €1,500 and increased public spending, was “a danger to the economy.” NUPES and RN both objected to Macron’s trip to Kyiv, accusing him of instrumentalizing it for electoral purposes.
In both camps, the traditional “republican front” swings to create a barrier against the far right. In the presidential elections, Mélenchon had limited himself to saying “no vote for the RN,” without clearly saying that he was voting for Macron (although many of his voters did); now, he likewise avoided clearly taking a side in the 108 contested races between Ensemble and RN. Macron, who in 2017 pledged to fight the far right in every way, has now changed tack, speaking of “two extremisms.” In the 62 Nupes-RN races, Borne has said “no vote for the extreme right,” but “on a case-by-case basis,” and has refused support for “candidates who do not respect the Republic, who insult policemen, who call for not supporting Ukraine and leaving the EU.” In contrast, Pap Ndiaye, the Minister of National Education, said that “the fight against the far right is not a principle with flexible meaning.” Clément Beaune (Europe) took the same position, and is in danger of losing his seat. Also in trouble is Amélie de Montchalin, another cabinet member who is emblematic for the policies promised by Macron (Minister for Ecological Transition).
All candidates have to contend with abstention, at 52.4% in the first round, a phenomenon that usually increases even more in the second round (57.3% in 2017), although this time NUPES made a strong appeal to abstainers (70% of young people). The political legitimacy of the new Assembly could suffer as a result; the yellow vests have already challenged the deputies by targeting their rallies. And now Macron is proposing a National Council of Refoundation, with elected politicians, national and local, but also citizens drawn by lot.