French Elections: Yet Another Crushing Defeat for the Establishment
On June 18, a little over a month after the presidential election, France held its legislative elections for all 577 seats in the National Assembly. Coming off of the rather shocking victory of Emmanuel Macron in the May 7 presidential election, his brand new party - En Marche! - was widely expected to dominate the subsequent legislative elections.
And that is exactly what happened. The completely brand new EM party, founded just last year, swept the elections and won exactly 350 seats - well above the 289 needed for a majority. While this fell below experts’ projections of a majority as high as 400 seats or more, and despite this victory coming about in the midst of a record-low rate of turnout (42%), it is still a comfortable margin that gives Macron’s party all the power it needs.
The mainstream media, naturally, has also focused largely on the performance of France’s national populist party, the National Front (FN), just a month after its leader - Marine Le Pen - lost the presidential race to Macron by a 32-point margin. Indeed, although the party came in third place in both the first and second rounds, it wound up with only eight seats total - still a sizeable increase of six from its previous total in 2012. This makes it only the ninth-largest party in the National Assembly, well behind the others.
However, there were still some clear indicators of not only victories for the FN, but stunning defeats for the political establishment of France on both sides of the aisle. First, Marine Le Pen herself scored a personal victory when she was finally elected to the National Assembly for the first time in her career, from Pas-de-Calais’s 11th constituency. At the same time, the FN’s eight seats is by far the largest amount of seats the party has held since it won 35 seats in 1986, under the leadership of Marine’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen.
June 18 was also a good night for another presidential candidate: Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left candidate and leader of the La France Insoumise party (FI), who was also elected to the National Assembly for the first time from Bouches-du-Rhône’s 4th constituency. His party also made gains, winning 17 seats overall. The far-left also saw gains with the Communist Party gaining three more seats, increasing its total to 10.
But the biggest story to come out of the elections, once again, is the near-collapse of both major parties and their coalitions.
The incumbent Socialist Party and its coalition, the Parliamentary Left, saw a plunge in its numbers. After the 2012 elections that followed the election of François Hollande to the presidency, the Parliamentary Left had a total of 331 seats. With these elections, the coalition lost 287 seats, dropping to just 44 seats overall.
Things were not much better on the right. The Parliamentary Right, led by The Republicans, has been through a rather tumultuous roller-coaster ride since the presidential election. Back when their nominee, François Fillon, was widely projected to win the first and second rounds of the presidential election, it was expected that this would also translate to a victory for the right in the National Assembly. But after a nepotism scandal arose revealing that Fillon had paid his wife millions for a minimal government job, his numbers dropped and he came in a more distant third behind Le Pen and Macron. As a result, the only consolation for the center-right coalition on Sunday was that they didn’t lose as badly as the left, losing only 92 seats - once again defying most poll projections. Thus, despite the seat loss, they have maintained their status as the second-largest coalition in the National Assembly, and have retained nearly 100 more seats than the left-wing coalition.
And thus, the French elections tell the exact same story that the Dutch elections earlier this year told. No, the national populist party did not make the gains they were expecting, despite making noticeable gains nonetheless.
But not only were the elections still a stinging rebuke for the left as a whole, they were a rebuke of the entirety of the political establishment. Both major parties and their coalitions lost seats in historic numbers - with the left losing more seats than the right - while the victories of the night went to the “fringe” parties such as the national populists and the far-left, as well as more upstart parties that haven’t been around nearly as long as the major parties. In many ways, this is just as much of a political earthquake for the European political landscape as a victory for the national populists would have been.