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Panic in Paris as Macron’s ‘Suicidal’ Snap Election Paves Way for Populist Right to Take Power

President of the French far-right Rassemblement National (RN) and electoral list leader Jo
CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP via Getty Images

The French establishment and the far left have descended into full-blown panic over the possibility of the populist right taking control over the levers of power following the unprecedented move by President Emmanuel Macron to dissolve the National Assembly and call for a snap election in the wake of his disastrous defeat to the National Rally in the European Parliament elections.

President Macron dissolved the French parliament mid-term on Sunday, the first President to do so for decades and the first time it has been done in response to an election defeat. The bold move on Sunday evening came after his Rennaissance party won just 14.7 per cent of the vote for the European Parliament elections, compared to 31.5 per cent for the populist right-wing National Rally (Rassemblement National, RN) of former presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.

The move has sparked widespread panic, with thousands of leftists taking to the streets of Paris, Marseilles and Montpellier on Monday, calling for a revival of the failed NUPES leftist coalition while chanting: “Everyone hates fascists” and “Paris, Paris, Antifa”. The protests in Paris continued into the evening as leftist radicals clashed with police.

The gamble for Mr Macron, which is being described as “suicidal” by his allies according to Le Figaro, hopes to once again mobilise the public against the spectre of the supposed “far-right”, shut down the momentum for the National Rally, and reinvigorate the mandate for the rest of his second and final term in the Élysée Palace. However, by acquiescing to the demands of RN president Jordan Bardella for a snap election, Macron has opened the door to the distinct possibility of the populist party taking control over the French legislature for the first time in history.

Should the National Rally secure an absolute majority of 289 seats in the Assembly, Macron would be presented with two options; either resign from office or appoint Jordan Bardella to the Hôtel Matignon as his next prime minister and form a “cohabitation” government. If RN wins the most seats but does not achieve an absolute majority, it will then have the opportunity to form a coalition with other parties who agree to back Bardella. However, other parties could also try to block the National Rally and band together behind a “consensus” PM candidate. Failing that, the parliament would become gridlocked with Macron unable to call for new elections until next year.

Many in Paris have questioned why Macron would open himself up to such a risk, with prominent former bureaucrat Maxime Tandonnet saying: “This dissolution seems to open a fatal door into the unknown. What happens if the RN wins an absolute majority? Is the president ready to govern with a prime minister from this party?”

It has also been noted, that while Macron was already governing from a minority position after having lost his majority in the National Assembly in 2022 which sparked some political turmoil, the functioning of the government had continued, with legislation on even contentious subjects such as immigration being passed. The situation is novel in modern French history, with presidents only dissolving parliament on three previous occasions, none of which were prompted by an election result as in the case of Macron.

The first two instances of snap legislative elections were called by war-time leader and then-President Charles de Gaulle in 1962 and 1968 during moments of political crisis, the first coming following a no-confidence vote against de Gaulle over his push towards having the public directly vote for president and the second coming in the wake of months of anti-capitalist worker and student strikes which ground the country to a halt in May of 1968. In both instances, General de Gaulle prevailed at the ballot box, however, he ultimately resigned in 1969 and died the following year.

The next case came in 1997 when then-President Jaques Chirac dissolved the National Assembly for early legislative elections in a bid to bolster his majority and to wrongfoot his leftist opponents. The gamble for Chirac failed to pay off, with the public largely seeing through the clear political manoeuvring. It marked the first time since 1877 that a French president lost a legislative election that he called and the centre-right Chiraq was forced into a “cohabitation” government in which socialist Lionel Jospin became his prime minister.

Like Chirac, Macron appears to be betting on a divided left to cement his grip on power. Lecturer in public law at the University of Paris II Panthéon-Assas, Benjamin Morel said if the left remains fractured — as it has on issues such as Israel in recent months — this would potentially open up traditionally leftist constituencies to being won by Macron’s allies.

Furthermore, if a fractured left fails to be represented in the second round of voting, it could encourage tactical voting from leftists to block a National Rally majority, Morel said. Finally, the academic said that Macron would likely seek to convince centre-right Les Republicains or the centre-left to form an alliance to secure a majority for his government.

“But that’s a lot of ‘ifs’, betting on the suicide of the left, and would by definition lead to a majority of supporters who are difficult to control and unstable. However, this is the best scenario for the President of the Republic,” Morel said.

It has also been suggested Macron believes he is setting a trap for RN, and by essentially handing them the Parliament now and playing a long game to the next French Presidential elections in 2027. This plan working relies, of course, on Le Pen’s populists being as incompetent as Macron appears to believe they are, and RN embarrassing themselves once in power and giving him a boost for the Presidential election.

On the other hand, if anti-Macron leftists and the National Rally secure enough seats to form an absolute majority, they could push forward a motion de censure (vote of no confidence) in Macron and potentially topple his government.

On Monday, both the hard left and the populist right began attempts to solidify their coalitions, with 350 prominent left-wing political figures writing in Le Monde that only a “union of leftists and environmentalists can counter” the rise of the “far-right”. Following the leftist protests in Paris, the leaders of the Socialist Party, La France Insoumise (LFI), Les Écologists, and the French Communist Party announced that they would form an election pact dubbed the “new popular front”.

Meanwhile, RN leaders Jordan Bardella and Marine Le Pen met with Marion Maréchal, Le Pen’s disaffected niece and vice president of the Éric Zemmour-led anti-mass migration Reconquête party in the hopes of brokering a right-wing election pact.

“This is a historic moment that we are experiencing, we have the historic opportunity for the French to build a majority,” said Maréchal following the talks in Paris, adding; “I stretched out the hand to Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella, and I thank them for having accepted.”

However, the recently elected Reconquête MEP said that Monday was just the “first stage of the discussion” and that a “certain number of conditions were set” by Bardella and Le Pen, so therefore “it’s time to discuss it with Éric Zemmour”.

Bardella, the 28-year-old “rock star” leader of the party, who led the European Parliament election campaign and will be the face of the snap election campaign in France, said that he has also reached out to the centre-right Les Republicains to potentially form an alliance to take power from Macron, saying “this opportunity is historic”.

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via June 10th 2024