On Sunday, April 24, incumbent French president Emmanuel Macron won re-election. However, Macron’s victory may be short-lived as he faces a divided population and a hostile political landscape.
Emmanuel Macron was first elected as president of France in 2017 with more than two-thirds of the votes, defeating Marine Le Pen of the far-right party Rassemblement Nationale (RN). Macron’s party, La République en Marche (LREM), won a majority of seats in the French legislative election, giving him control of both the executive and legislative branches. The centrist and pro-European head of state presided over several reforms touching taxation, pensions, labour rights, and environmental policies during his term. However, his reforms lead to massive opposition and protests, like the 2018 yellow vest protests. Domestically, these oppositions made Macron a polarizing figure in French politics.
First round of the presidential election
After five years at the helms, Emmanuel Macron was eligible for re-election. Macron led with 27.85% of the vote during the first round of voting. His 2017 opponent Marine Le Pen finished second with 23.15%. Under the French electoral system, if no candidate receives more than 50% of the votes in the first round, the top two frontrunners will advance into the second round of voting. As a result, Macron and Le Pen faced a rematch, with the former winning a second mandate with 58.5% of the votes, becoming the first president to win re-election since 2002. The second round of voting saw the lowest voter turnout since 1969, with 28.01% of French voters refusing to cast a ballot. This high level of absenteeism was attributed to political pundits resulting from voter alienation.
Fall of the traditional parties and rise of the extremes
This year’s presidential election has been marked by a divided population angry at the political establishment. As a result, many far-right and far-left candidates performed at an all-time high at the cost of the traditional parties.
Since the beginning of the Fifth Republic, France has been governed by two major political parties: the center-left Parti Socialiste (PS) and the centre-right Les Républicains (LR). Since Macron’s election, the two major political parties have faced a decline in support. In this year’s presidential election, LR candidate Valérie Pécresse finished with less than five percent, while PS candidate Anne Hildago finished with less than two percent.
As a result of the fall of those two traditional parties, both the far-left and far-right candidates performed exceptionally well. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the presidential candidate of the far-left party La France Insoumise (LFI), came third with 21.95% of the votes. If Mélenchon had won an additional 425,000 votes, he would have finished second and qualified for the second round. In addition to Marine Le Pen, far-right pundit Éric Zémmour launched his own presidential bid and arrived fourth with 7% of the vote. All three populist candidates ran on appealing to voters who felt alienated.
The June legislative election
Despite winning a second mandate, Emmanuel Macron will have a tougher challenge. On June 12, voters will be called to the polls once again to choose their new deputies of the National Assembly. All the parties opposing Macron’s presidency have already announced they will be working to prevent the president from getting his majority at the National Assembly. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who refused to endorse Macron or Le Pen during the second presidential round, has called his supporters to vote for his party at the legislative election and make him the next French prime minister. Marine Le Pen and Éric Zémmour are reportedly working together on building a far-right coalition against the governing LREM.
Historically, re-elected French presidents often had trouble achieving a second majority at the National Assembly. Considering Macron’s polarizing presence and political landscape, getting that majority will be hard for the president and his party. Should the LREM lose their majority, Macron may have to compromise with the opposition parties to avoid political gridlock and further turmoil in the population.
Future of French politics
Macron’s re-election may be one of the most critical presidential elections in recent history. By winning a second mandate, Macron is barred from running for a third term in office. His departure will undoubtedly leave a void among the LREM ranks. Many political scientists do not believe the party will survive without Macron as its leading figure. With the decline of the traditional parties and the lack of a centrist alternative, both the far-left and far-right parties could directly clash together, leaving the future of this important European country in turmoil.
By Jacques Wang