PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron lost his absolute majority in Parliament by a wide margin on Sunday, in a political blow that will complicate his leadership at a time when Europe faces profound challenges prompted by the war in Ukraine.
Macron’s party and his allies won 245 seats, according to an analysis by French public broadcaster France Televisions, based on the official results, while the far right made unexpected gains. Macron would have needed 289 seats for an absolute majority that would have allowed him to govern without having to build a coalition or ad hoc alliances with political opponents.
The outcome of the vote, one of the worst results for an incumbent French president in recent history, could slow down and hinder Macron’s ability to implement the platform he was reelected on in April.
Macron’s ability to implement the platform he was elected on in April could be hampered by this result.
On front pages and in editorials, French newspapers characterized the result as “an earthquake” and “a slap in the face” for Macron, who may now face a “stillborn five-year term.” Addressing the country with a stern face, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said the results create an “unprecedented situation” that carries “a risk for our country.”
Budget Minister Gabriel Attal acknowledged that the outcome was “far from what we hoped for.” There was no immediate comment from Macron, who could still regain control over Parliament if he can convince another party or individual members to support his centrist alliance, and Borne on Sunday appealed for such a “compromise” to “build a majority of action.”
But some Macron allies worry that Borne, who was only named prime minister a month ago and has a largely technocratic background, may not be prepared to confront the president’s newly emboldened far-left and far-right opponents.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen’s National Rally won 89 seats, in a strong showing that exceeded expectations. Her party won over 10 times more seats in Parliament than it did five years ago, when eight of its candidates were elected. Le Pen declared Sunday night that this group would be the biggest in political history, and celebrated the outcome.
The political left, which is composed of the Greens, the Socialists, the Communists and the party of far-left politician Jean-Luc Melenchon, will become Macron’s primary opponent in Parliament, with up to 133 seats, but performed somewhat below expectations.
Melenchon nevertheless appeared victorious Sunday night, suggesting that the result would allow his left-wing bloc to push for more decisive action on combating climate change or poverty, and to obstruct Macron’s agenda. Melenchon stated, “We beat him.” “France has spoken but, it must be said, with an insufficient voice because the level of abstention is still way too high.”
About 54 percent of voters did not vote in the election on Sunday, after decades of falling turnout in the country and increasingly widespread frustration with the state of French democracy.
After his reelection in April, Macron promised to unite the country and address the frustrations that are behind the low turnout. Macron made gestures for leftist voters he disappointed in his first term. He had shifted to the side on many issues during that time. In April before his reelection, he stated that he had no desire to do five years more. “I want them to be five years of complete renewal.”
His critics on the left, however, say that the promised renewal has not been anywhere in sight. Many of Macron’s former ministers were still in his government after he restructured it in May. While other parties were rushing to the campaign trail following the election, Macron was largely absent.
“His strategy failed,” said Pierre Mathiot, the director of Sciences Po Lille, a political studies institute in France, adding that the most serious impact in the long run may be the unexpected far-right surge.
Early warning signs that the strategy could backfire emerged last weekend, when Macron’s alliance and his left-wing challengers finished neck-and-neck in the first round of the parliamentary elections. It was the worst parliamentary election result for an incumbent president in more than half a century.
As the possibility of a hung Parliament became increasingly realistic, Macron doubled down on his criticism of Melenchon and appealed to voters to allow him to pursue his agenda. He said that “Nothing could be worse than adding French disorder and the world’s chaos to one another.”
Despite his bloc’s weak performance in the first round, Macron spent much of the past week outside France, traveling to Romania to visit French troops on the eastern NATO flank, then heading to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. While Macron’s trip to Ukraine briefly brought the conflict back in the spotlight, polls show that voters are more concerned about other topics, such as rising living costs, climate change, and healthcare.
During the presidential election in April, those issues largely played into the hands of the far right and helped Le Pen win 41 percent of the vote, a record result for her party. France’s parliamentary seats do not distribute equally. The legislative election system, however, is intended to produce a runoff vote between top candidates from their constituencies.
In practice, this favors bigger alliances such as Macron’s bloc or Melenchon’s left-wing alliance over smaller or more isolated parties like Le Pen’s National Rally. Le Pen refused to join an alliance with Eric Zemmour (her far-right rival) who failed to qualify any candidates for the second round.
Melenchon’s success at forming a broad left-wing alliance stunned some observers and reflected a desire among many voters in France for more representation in Parliament, even if it requires concessions. However, Macron could be forced to move further to the right by the rising leftist bloc.
One of the options for Macron could be a coalition with the center-right Republicans party and its allies, who won 64 seats. However, the Republicans leader on Sunday night appeared to rule out such a coalition, saying that his party “will remain in the opposition.”
Another alternative for Macron could be to build ad hoc alliances for each proposed bill. Bruno Le Maire, French Finance Minister, stated Sunday that “this culture of compromise” is something Macron will need to embrace. “We must do so around clear values, ideas and political projects for France.”
But compromises across ideological lines are rare in the French Parliament, said Vincent Martigny, a political scientist at the University of Nice, and especially for Macron, “who is not a man of compromise.”