French President Emmanuel Macron projected to lose absolute majority in Parliament

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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron was projected to lose his absolute majority in parliament by a wide margin on Sunday, in a blow that could complicate his presidency at a time when Europe faces profound challenges prompted by the war in Ukraine.

Projections for France’s TF1 broadcaster showed Macron’s party and his allies winning between 235 and 240 seats, 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 Sunday’s 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. Although French presidents wield more power over foreign policy and other areas than their counterparts in many other European countries, Macron still relies on the lower house of parliament for many of his most important projects.

On front pages and in editorials, French papers 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 lisabeth Borne said Sunday’s results create an “unpreceded 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.

Macron 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 of Macron’s allies worry that Borne, who was only named Prime Minister a month ago and has a largely technocratic background, may be ill-prepared to confront Macron’s newly-emboldened far-left and far-right opponents.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen’s National Rally was projected to win between 85 and 90 seats on Sunday, in a strong showing that exceeded expectations. Her far-right party may win ten times more seats in parliament than it did five years ago, when 8 of its candidates were elected.

“This group will be by far the largest in our political history,” Le Pen said on Sunday night, celebrating the result.

The political left — composed of the Greens, the Socialists, the Communists and the party of far-left politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon — was projected to become Macron’s primary opponent in parliament with 157 to 163 seats, but performed somewhat below expectations.

Mélenchon nevertheless appeared victorious on 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.

“We beat him,” Mélenchon said. “France has spoken but, it must be said, with an insufficient voice because the level of abstention is still way too high.”

France’s public broadcaster estimated that as many as 54 percent of voters did not vote in Sunday’s election, after decades of falling turnout in the country and increasing 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. He made gestures to leftist voters whom he had disappointed during his first term, during which he shifted to the right on various issues.

“I have no interest in doing five more years,” he said in April, before his reelection. “I want them to be five years of complete renewal.”

But his critics on the left say that the promised renewal hasn’t been anywhere in sight. When Macron reshuffled his government in May, he kept many of his old ministers in the government. And as other parties hastened out onto the campaign trail after the presidential election, Macron remained largely absent.

“His strategy failed,” said Pierre Mathiot, the director of Sciences Po Lille, a political studies institute, adding that the most serious impact in the long run may be the unexpected far-right surge on Sunday.

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 Mélenchon and appealed to voters to allow him to pursue his agenda. “Nothing would be worse than adding French disorder to the world’s disorder,” he said last week.

Despite his bloc’s weak performance last Sunday, Macron spent much of the past week outside France, traveling to Romania to visit French troops on the eastern NATO flank and then heading to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Macron’s Ukraine trip briefly put the war back into the political spotlight in France, but polls suggest that other issues such as the rising cost of living, the impact of climate change and health care were more important to voters.

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During the presidential election in April, those issues had 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.

But parliamentary seats are not distributed proportionately in France. Instead, the two-round legislative election system is designed to result in a runoff vote between the two leading candidates in their respective constituencies, barring the rare event of a clear first-round victory. In practice, this favors bigger alliances such as Macron’s bloc or Mélenchon’s left-wing alliance over smaller or more isolated parties like Le Pen’s National Rally.

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Le Pen had refused to form an alliance with her far-right competitor, ric Zemmour, whose party failed to qualify any of its candidates for the second round.

Mélenchon’s success at forming a broad left-wing alliance stunned some observers and reflected a desire among many leftist voters in France for more parliamentary representation, even if it requires concessions.

Yet the leftist bloc’s rise could force Macron to shift further to the right after Sunday’s vote.

One of the options for him could be a coalition with the center-right Republicans party and its allies, which were projected to win between 65 and 70 seats. But the Republicans’ president 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.

“This culture of compromise is one we will have to adopt,” Macron’s Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Sunday night. “We must do so around clear values, ideas and political projects for France,” he said.

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 Mr. Macron, who is not a man of compromise.”

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