it’s impossible to know what sort of government might emerge from the current state of chaos

There were scenes of joy at the Place de la République in Paris when many thousands of people who were gathered to wait for the result of recent French election discovered that Marine Le Pen’s far-right coalition has not succeeded in taking control of the national assembly. Many outside the country also expressed a sense of relief that the far right would not sweep to power in France.

But as a result of the upheavals of the past month, French politics has changed dramatically. In justifying his decision to call early parliamentary elections after the far-right dominated in the European Union elections in early June, the president, Emmanuel Macron, said that he was seeking a clarification of the French political landscape.

His decision – and the resulting parliamentary election – have changed the face of the French national assembly and has confirmed the tripartite configuration of French political life. The newly elected national assembly will be composed by three main blocs: the left coalition New Popular Front (NFP), Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Ensemble and the far-right National Rally (RN) and its allies.

Macron’s move clearly backfired. His Ensemble coalition, which previously dominated the national assembly, was beaten into second place. This was even after it benefited disproportionately from tactical voting, with 81 Ensemble candidates stepping aside compared to 129 from the NFP.

Despite being pushed into third place, the far right has never been more dominant in France given the almost blanket media coverage it has received. The left may have won the second round of the parliamentary elections, but after a bruising campaign of demonisation from Macron’s party Ensemble, the NFP will have to try to choose a prime minister in what will inevitably be a difficult media environment.

Meanwhile, the centre-right Les Républicains have been split over the decision to side with RN and is fast losing credibility with its voters. Ensemble is also split between those who agreed with the tactical voting pact and those who continue to demonise the NFP as “far-left” and pro mass immigration (or immigrationiste, borrowing the far-right rhetoric).

Green party members smiling and clapping.
‘Third round’: Green party leader Marine Tondelier (third form left) celebrates the results of the run-off vote with colleagues.
Abaca Press/Alamy Stock Photo

French politics is entering into what the Green party leader, Marine Tondelier, called the “third round” of the parliamentary elections. Now comes a hectic period of negotiations, deals and potential coalitions

Parliamentary chaos

The multi-party composition of the new national assembly would not look unusual to many European democracies. But France is different – until 2017 the main cleavage was organised around two political parties, Les Républicains (and its predecessors) and the centre-left Parti Socialiste.

This means the French political system does not have a tradition of coalition governments. So understandably, a feeling of confusion now dominates the discussion: who will govern, with what majority and how?

This “third round” promises to last a good part of the summer, and perhaps by early September the exercise of power from the new government will be clearer. Here are a few observations.

First, the parliament is set to dominate French political life like never before. French politics is semi-presidential, meaning that there are two executive figures: a president and a prime minister. In recent years under presidents Nicolas Sarkozy, François Hollande and Emmanuel Macron, the prime minister’s power has visibly declined and they have mostly followed orders from the president.

But the assembly is deeply split and no one party can command anything like a majority, especially given the deep divisions between the three blocs and the lack of experience of coalition governments. So most observers expect a lengthy period of instability.

Whoever ends up forming a government will find it hard to pass any legislation and there are likely to be regular votes of no confidence. This would bring further instability and deadlock in parliament.

Then Macron could opt to call fresh parliamentary elections in a year’s time. A French president can only dissolve the parliament once a year.

Finally we could see a push to change the constitution. The political manifestos of far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon in 2012, 2017 and 2022 included the setting up of a constituent assembly to write a new constitution – in effect designing a sixth republic.

Will this gain traction in the next few months? The New Popular Front included the introduction of a citizens’ referendum – demanded by the popular Gilets jaunes protest movement back in 2018 – as part of its manifesto.

The new-look French national assembly:

COloured graphic showing make up of new French national assembly

New Popular Front: 180 seats Miscellaneous left: 12 seats Regionalists: 9 seats Ecologists: 1 seat Miscellaneous centre: 6 seats Ensemble pour la République: 159 seats Miscellaneous: 1 seat The Republicans: 39 seats Miscellaneous right: 27 seats National Rally and allies: 142 seats Miscellaneous far-right: 1 seat.
French Interior Ministry

Last week, the French media exposed what appeared to be some irregularities with the French far-right parties – 109 candidates were found to have used racist, sexist, antisemitic or conspiracist statements in the past.

In his winning speech, NFP candidate and influential François Ruffin said: “Voters are giving us one last chance,” he told supporters. “Just when the darkness seemed to be winning, the light came back on.” So the responsibility of the left not to disappoint is huge. The NFP is promising sweeping reforms – with an array of what it calls “social justice” laws including an increase of the minimum wage to €1,600 euros (£1,352), a price freeze for certain basic goods and inflation-linked public sector wage increases.

The far-right, meanwhile, is eyeing up its chances in the 2027 presidential election. Their campaign will trumpet their “anti-elitist” intentions to govern for ordinary people – while mostly planning on giving tax breaks to the rich, demonising immigrants and unleashing racist sentiments. And divisions in France will continue to widen.

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